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.

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

  1. Stan says:

    They did vote on it, in 2001, by setting the maximum level, and it is based on a percentage of the federal rate. The Legislature just never raised the amount they were taking at the time. Look at it this way, they voluntarily take less than what the law allows.

    • Ed Heinzelman says:

      Do you have a link to how the per diem was established in 2001? I would be curious to see how the vote was handled.

      The current article clearly states that it only requires the committee of 8 Assembly leaders to raise the per diem now. And apparently the 90% of the federal rate was the measure they used in 2001 but doesn’t seem to have any application going forward.

      So my suggestions on how to handle the situation stands as stated in my blog.

      • Stan says:

        It was in one of the early articles about this.

        I do not think they should raise it, but it does not mean that they have not already done it, which is why it only needs to go through the organization committee.

  2. Fred says:

    “valid expenses”

    Are we to believe that Scott Fitzgerald spent more than enough to lease a Madison apartment for a year on temporary lodging?

    • Ed Heinzelman says:

      Have you recently stayed at a motel in the Madison area? Ain’t cheap…although I would think a regular could cut a deal. And I bet that they don’t eat their meals at McD’s. And I would expect the per diem is meant to cover travel to Madison as well.

  3. Ed Heinzelman says:

    This is from the MJS article and I left it out of my original post but had meant to comment on it: “Vos declined to say how much a raise might be. But he said if the rate goes up, the Assembly would make cuts elsewhere in its budget to make sure the cost of its total operations do not rise.”

    A practical way to cover his posterior with the Republicans but not sure it’ll go over quite so well with the cities, counties, and educators who are looking for more help from Madison, not less.

  4. Ed Heinzelman says:

    Doing a little more research this afternoon…I don’t think Stan has it right…but found this site on per diem rates per Wisconsin City:


    In 2011 Madison was $88 just of lodging plus $56 for food and incidentals (?)…

  5. Ed Heinzelman says:

    From the Badger Herald:


    ‘Per diem expenses are given in addition to the legislators’ $49,943 annual salary, and the Assembly speaker receives $25 per month on top of that. For travel costs, legislators are also compensated for round trip travel to and from the Capitol.’

    So they aren’t expected to use the per diem for travel…I was wrong in that assumption.

  6. jimspice says:

    Or do away with the per diem entirely, and allow legislators to submit receipts for recompense as they see fit. If it’s available to the public, you’d hope they’d be very frugal.

  7. Ed Heinzelman says:

    Stan, I can’t find anything that says the entire legislature ever voted for the per diem rate in 2001 either…or that they have set up some type of ‘plan’ or ‘ratio’ against a standard going forward…if you’ve got that info, could you share?

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