Sunday, February 14, 2016

Our Legislature's Weekend Warriors

A new report on taxpayer-paid per diems for state lawmakers shows a bunch are collecting cash for "working" weekends.

Our Legislature's Weekend Warriors

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If you've noticed an uptick in productivity from our stellar state Legislature maybe it's because nearly half of its 253 members are collecting cash for "working" on weekends.

(Actually, if you've noticed an uptick in productivity from our stellar Legislature get yourself to an eye doctor or a therapist because you're either seeing things or halucinating. But I digress.)

A new report by the online news service PAindependent.com says 123 lawmakers took home a total of more than $102,000 in tax-free per diem payments last year on top of their annual salaries and generous benefits.

Per diems are completely legal under the Legislature's system of allowing members to claim -- but not explain or show receipts for -- about $160 for each day they "work." The payment is to cover travel, lodging and meal expenses whether they actually spend it or not.

In 2011, according to PAindependent's review, more than $1.3 million in tax dollars was spent on per diems.

Philadelphians can be proud that among weekend warriors one of their own, Democratic state Rep. Mark Cohen, led the way with $6,570 for 43 weekend days.

This keeps Cohen's long-standing streak of leading legislators in any category related to collecting expenses, a streak that extends back decades. He made news again in this area in August. He's been in the Legislature 38 years.

Other top weekend takers include: Pittsburgh Democrat Dom Costa, $3,690 for 22 weekend days; Erie Democrat Patrick Harkins, $3,000 for 19 weekend days; Pittsburgh Democrat Harry Readshaw, $3,000 for 19 weekend days; Bedford County Republican Dick Hess, $2,741 for 17 weekend days; Erie Republican Curtis Sonney, $2,605 for 16 weekend days.

You might notice nobody comes close to Cohen, and other top takers are from districts much further from Harrisburg than Philly is.

The per diem game is a total scam that I've railed about for years. There are always efforts to change it by, for example, regulating the system so lawmakers who need to travel are paid only what they actually spend and can provide receipts for.

Such efforts almost always come from newer members. One, freshman West Chester Republican Dan Truitt, has legislation to make such a change. He notes his train trip to the Capital City costs $32.80 for which he takes a claimed expense instead of a per diem.

But, speaking of trains, why would lawmakers vote to end their own gravy train? After all, it's only your money. And, hey, have a nice weekend.

Oh, and GRRRR!

 

 

 

 

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 baerj@phillynews.com.

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 baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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