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.