Our Lawmakers' Per Diem Chase

State Rep. Mark Cohen.

On behalf of Philadelphia I am personally bummed.

Veteran Democratic state Rep. Mark Cohen, a perenial leader in collecting expenses related to lodging and food, was not the top taker for the 2011-12 legislative session.

According to a report this week by Brad Bumsted of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cohen is the second-highest earner of the perk pay called per diems.

So much for Philly pride.

For the uninitiated, taxpayers provide daily tax-free payments to lawmakers who actually show up for work, These payments range from $160 to $242, depending on whether a lawmaker travels to Harrisburg for session days or, for example, to Philly for committee hearings.

This is on top of an $83,802 base salary, and lawmakers are not required to provide receipts proving they actually spent the money.

Sweet, right?

I've written about Cohen's per diem collections for decades and his ability to stay at or near the top of the pile.

But last session, the top taker was Allegheny County Democratic Rep. Dom Costa who collected $55,495 in per diems.

Cohen was second with $54,902.

“I‘m doing my job as a state legislator,” Cohen told the Tribune-Review. “I have no vacation home. I have no time shares. I work hard at being a state legislator. ... I‘m in Harrisburg as much as I can be. I believe paying attention to the legislative process is important.”

Our lawmakers' (in the largest full-time legislature in America) total per diem cost was $3.9 million during last session.

Getting this info requires formal Right to Know requests in both the state House and Senate since, of course, the data's not available directly or online.

And that new transparency promised by the Legislature and the Corbett administration, which last month touted a new website, PennWATCH?

Yeah, see, legislative expenses aren't included.

(You can read the full Tribune-Review report here.)

But while I'm bummed, I have confidence in Cohen. It's a whole new session, and he's not that far behind.

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