Legislative Per Diems Versus Minimum Wage

As Zach pointed out earlier, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and the GOP Assembly members would like to raise their expense per diem from $88 to $137.50. Now I realize it’s been a while since the per diem was last changed and inflation/recession/inflation has taken some purchasing power out of their wallets…or should I say our wallets. But I really wonder how Speaker Vos thinks that this won’t cost us anything?

Lawmakers do not have to produce receipts to claim per diem, but Vos said they risk criminal false swearing charges if they lie on their expense reports.

Vos said after 14 years it was time to more accurately account for expenses and that he did not believe his plan would increase overall taxpayer costs.

“It’s actually being done in as cost-neutral a way as possible,” he said.

And it’s done on the honor system! Oh, wait, what?? Nevermind…I didn’t trust them with my money before so what’s the difference now, right?

Of course there are a few on the other side of the aisle who aren’t so sure this is a bad idea:

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said he backed the plan.

“I think it’s more equitable than what we have now,” Barca said

Now certainly I am being a little snarky here and I understand that travelling to Madison and staying overnight in the city is not only a culture shock for those from out state representatives but can hit the wallet pretty hard. Madison isn’t the cheapest place to stay in Wisconsin. And I don’t have a real problem with them being compensated in some fashion.

But here’s my real point. When it comes to the minimum wage…the purchasing power of minimum wage is likewise shrinking…so why the bluster about how it’s unaffordable…and the foot dragging about how it will harm the economy…when it’s the minimum wage earner or near minimum wage earner who is actually trying to make ends meet…instead of spiffing him/herself on an expanded perquisite? One will put my money back in the general economy in a big way…while one puts my money back in the economy in a narrow way for people I don’t think need it.

P.S. The State Senate isn’t considering changing the way they pay per diems.

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.