Getting Mad About the Wrong Thing on Madison’s Per Diem Debate

Earlier this week Zach posted an article about the State Assembly possibly raising the per diem expense rate paid to Assembly members during their stays in Madison. Surprisingly the article resulted in one of most spirited discussions of the week.

The per diem has a role to play in controlling the cost of government. Rather than raising salaries across the board to cover expenses, only members of the State Assembly and Senate who have valid expenses related to traveling to and staying in Madison during legislative sessions get reimbursed. Now the rate hasn’t been increased since 2001 and under normal circumstances the per diem is probably overdue for review and adjustment. We all know that expenses in general and particularly the cost of food and travel has increased in the past 10 years. But in the current economic environment it would send a very negative signal to taxpayers if it were raised.

But I think we are getting hot under the collar about the wrong thing. According to an article by Patrick Marley in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the State Assembly doesn’t have to vote on changing their per diem rate. Most likely, your representative and my representative could receive an increase in expense reimbursement without ever having to vote on it. Essentially your tax dollars, once again, could be spent without your representation. Apparently a committee of 8 Assembly leaders have the authority to change the per diem rate. Eight leaders out of 99 Assembly members decide…and those other 91 members would never have to explain to their constituents why they received increased expense reimbursement rates while the state continues to experience economic stress.

BTW: The State Assembly and Senate set their per diems separately which doesn’t make much sense either.

My suggestion: set the state per diem at a permanent percentage of the federal rate for stays in Madison…or utilize third party suggested rates (there are plenty of services like this available) and make the legislature vote on it…with the rate change going into effect after the following election similarly to their base salaries…and in either case make the rates the same for both houses of the legislature.

What’s the Deal with Progressives and Agism?

Just about a year ago, a candidate for local office visited Drinking Liberally to present a case for being elected over the long term incumbent. One of the knocks on the incumbent was the officeholder’s age put him out of touch with the district. Looking around the room at all of the gray hair and bald heads…many whose support at the doors, on the phones, and with contributions the candidate was hoping to gain…and knowing the incumbent was younger than myself…I commented to the candidate, that although I would accept the position that the incumbent was out of touch with the district and the area…I wouldn’t suggest attributing that to age. Instead of picking up on my hint, the candidate doubled down on the age theme. That candidate did not win and will not garner my support in any future attempts at elected office.

Just following the November 6th Presidential election, a rather premature Facebook discussion posited the question about potential Democratic candidates in 2016. Of course current favorite, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was mentioned. One of my progressive friends suggested that in 2016, Ms. Clinton would be 69 years old…too old to run for president. Senator John McCain was 72 when he was nominated at the 2008 Republican National Convention…and President Reagan was 69 when he started his first term as President (But of course they were Republicans, so we can discount that). So despite the recent lionization of former US Congressman David Obey, who was already over 69 during the protests in Madison or the reverence shown for State Senator Fred Risser who is well into his 80s, Ms. Clinton at 69 would be too old to be President. When I brought up the ‘elder’ statesmen Risser and Obey, I was reminded that the job of President is far more stressful and important than legislative positions. Maybe so…but I would suggest that the second most stressful job in US government…and one that is extremely taxing physically because of the continual world travel involved…is US Secretary of State…which by all accounts Ms. Clinton has filled with energy, grace, and diplomacy! And I think she could work circles around many of her far younger critics.

Is age one way of gauging a candidates fitness for office…well yes…I suppose it comes into play. But we should never dismiss out of hand a fully qualified candidate simply based on when they were born!