Thursday, February 11, 2016

A fun per-diem proposal

Since the Legislature seems unwilling to correct the deep flaw in its per diem program, here's a modest proposal to at least make it more fun.

A fun per-diem proposal


My Monday column on the Legislature's flawed per diem expense policy that allows lawmakers to take up to $185 a-day in tax-free expenses without providing receipts got me thinking of ways to, at least, liven things up a bit.

As the column notes, a report last week by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says our duly-elected representatives grabbed $1.3 million in expenses in 2011 and 2012 for days when the Legislature wasn't even in session.

The per diem leader was, as usual, Philly Democratic Rep. Mark Cohen.

These expenses are to cover food and lodging for any day a lawmaker claims he or she is working on official legislative business.

The Tribune-Review's report also notes that some lawmakers (when not staying overight) take just the food allowance of $52 to buy meals while driving home from Harrisburg.

One lawmaker who does so is the Legislature's conservative king, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, who got $2,300 worth of $52 food allowances.

The newspaper makes the point that since most lawmakers, including Metcalfe, travel the Turnpike it's hard to see how one could spend that amount on a meal.

I think the newspaper is on to something.

Since legislative leaders are loathe to require receipts for expenses, why not make the food allowance a challenge: you get it only if you spend it on food.

Think about it. Imagine your favorite representative eating $52 worth of Sbarros, Cinnabon, Roy Rogers or Popeye's.

We could use security cameras at Turnpike rest stops to watch. No tippng or buying Turnpike souvenirs. Just Turnpike food. You want meal money? Enjoy.

Maybe that could help curtail legislative appetites -- for eating up tax dollars.

Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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