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Harrisburg's per diem racket: Pigs at the trough

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State lawmakers' seemingly limitless appetite for unaccountable per diems — no receipts required — becomes outright gluttony at the public trough when they collect such payments for days when the General Assembly's neither in session nor voting, which cost taxpayers $1.3 million in 2011 and 2012.

Per diems, $51 to $185, supposedly cover lawmakers' food and lodging — on top of other perks and salaries of at least $83,802. Unaccountable and untaxed, per diems too often are wholly undeserved when the General Assembly is not in session.

How else to describe lawmakers collecting non-session per diems by attending hearings of committees to which they don't belong? Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia — tops in 2011-12 non-session per diems collected, at more than $38,000 — admits doing just that.

Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County, sponsored legislation limiting such per diems to testifying witnesses and committee members, and ending weekend per diems except for days during, just before or just after in-session days. Those would be small steps forward, yet per diems can't pass any “sniff test” unless receipts are required and lawmakers are reimbursed for those amounts, not issued flat payments.

Lawmakers will gorge on per diems and stick taxpayers with the tab so long as such payments are on Harrisburg's menu. Lavishly compensated and surely able to cover their own expenses, they — not taxpayers — should have to.

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