State representatives differ on per-diem expenses
The four state representatives who serve the Penn-Trafford area have different philosophies when it comes to claiming per-diem payments from the state for food and lodging.
In the last Legislative session, Democrat Joe Markosek collected more than $28,000 in unvouchered payments for hotel rooms and meals during state work when he was away from his Monroeville home, and Democrat Ted Harhai of Monessen collected more than $35,000 in similar per-diem payments.
Meanwhile, Republican Eli Evankovich of Murrysville claimed about $5,600 in per diems in his first two-year term, and Republican George Dunbar of Penn Township didn't accept any per-diem payment.
With lawmakers charging taxpayers $3.9 million during the 2011-12 session for per diems, statewide reform groups such as Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania and Rock the Capital again are calling for legislators to pass a law requiring them to submit receipts for expenses amassed while outside of their district on official duties.
Leo Knepper, executive director of Cumberland County-based Citizens Alliance, said the existing per-diem system – in which a legislator may take a tax-free allowance for food or lodging without documenting the expense – is wasteful. He said there is no reason why Pennsylvania legislators shouldn't be held to the same standard as anyone in the private sector who has to submit receipts.
“These are very tenable rules that can be put in place, and it's just common sense,” Knepper said.
Legislators differ on their opinion about the per-diem system, which typically makes $160 to $163 a day eligible to those who live more than 50 miles from the state capital, based on a calculation by the Internal Revenue Service. The per-diem rates for overnight travel to Philadelphia for committee hearings were $233 in 2011 and $242 in 2012.
Those are payments legislators may receive in addition to their $83,802 base salaries.
While Markosek, who started his 16th term this month, said he has seen studies that show it might be more expensive for the state to administer a full-fledged system based on receipts, Evankovich is among a group of newer legislators that supports a change. Evankovich said the $5,646 he received was based on receipts he kept. He said he backs a proposal by state Rep. Dan Truitt, a second-term Republican from Chester County, to limit reimbursements for legislators to their actual expenses.
“My philosophy is, I seek reimbursement for expenses that I incur,” Evankovich said. “The system isn't set up for it to be additional compensation.”
“As a guy who comes from the business world, I spend the taxpayer's money just like I spend my own, which is very frugally,” he added.
Markosek defended his per-diem payments as appropriate because they're determined by the Internal Revenue Service.
As a longtime lawmaker, Markosek has ascended to a significant leadership post, serving as the Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. That committee alone meets for about three weeks straight in Harrisburg in late winter, he said. In the last legislative session, Markosek estimated, he spent more than 200 nights away from his home.
“If you take my expenses and divide by 200 to 300 nights away from home, it's not unreasonable,” he said.
Though longtime political observer Terry Madonna says the per-diem policy is “very liberal in its use,” Madonna — the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College — said he doesn't expect any alterations to be a legislative priority in the new session.
Lawmakers already are concentrating on the state budget, the proposed privatization of management of the Pennsylvania Lottery, potential privatization of the state's wine and liquor stores, public pension reform and transportation funding.
At $35,117, Harhai, a nine-term legislator, collected the most among the Westmoreland County delegation. Harhai, whose district includes Manor and part of North Huntingdon, didn't return a call requesting comment about ranking 17th-highest among the 165 House members who received per diems.
That's in contrast to Dunbar, who in his first term, didn't collect any per diems.
Dunbar said he turns in his receipts from stays at a hotel in Camp Hill, near Harrisburg, for $72 a night. He said doesn't collect reimbursements for food.
Dunbar, a certified public accountant, said he supports a receipt system because there needs to be accountability at all level of government.
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8671 or email@example.com. Staff writer Brad Bumsted contributed to this report.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pitt overcomes adversity, Virginia to improve to 4-1
- Touchstone program forges Frazier grad’s interest in art
- Man jumps from Liberty Bridge, dies
- Penn State sheds conservative playcalling in rout of Indiana
- Pittsburgh firefighters rescue person from Point Breeze house fire
- Zombie Stomp to take over streets of Finleyville
- Scout’s spruce-up of Masontown church nets Eagle award
- Farmington arts center dedicates glass studio
- Pirates say goodbye to veteran leaders Burnett, Ramirez
- Storyteller brings ghost tales to Rostraver library event
- Gorman: WPIAL must answer with power move