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West Chester lawmaker to introduce proposal to ban per diem payments

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Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

HARRISBURG — A state lawmaker on Tuesday will introduce legislation that would bar legislators from collecting per diems, the flat, unaccountable payments they can receive for food and lodging.

Rep. Dan Truitt, R-West Chester, cited the “potential for abuse” of the payments. He said the bill's prospects for passage are a little better in 2013 than 2012, when the bill died in committee. It remains an uphill battle to ban the long practice of lawmakers collecting a flat rate — now $160 per day — when they come to Harrisburg or attend committee meetings elsewhere. They get the money in addition to a base salary of $83,802.

The Tribune-Review reported last week that lawmakers collected $3.9 million in per diems in the 2011-12 session. The House, with 203 members, compared to 50 in the Senate, accounted for $3.5 million of that during the two-year session.

“Leaders will continue to look at ways to refine the system and improve it,” said Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans, when asked whether Truitt's bill has a shot. Per diems for the House were $1.7 million less in 2011-12 than the previous two-year session, Miskin said.

Truitt said he recognizes per diems are a legitimate way to collect expenses that minimize administrative costs.

They can cause problems with appearance, though.

Based on the number of Right to Know law requests filed for information on the payments, it seems obvious “the public has a dim view of per diems and suspects legislators are profiting from them,” he told colleagues in a memo seeking co-sponsors.

Companion legislation includes a proposed House rule change that would cap actual expenses at the per diem rate.

“The pros of a bill like this are that it does give you a pure accounting of what was spent,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. “The cons are that it requires more effort on the part of legislators themselves ... plus they have to be audited and checked.”

Co-sponsors tend to be newer Republican members. Truitt, entering his second term, does not accept per diems. He collects expenses, including mileage for the round-trip train fare to Exton.

Most in the private sector have moved away from per diems to actual expenses, said Truitt, an engineer.

“Nobody should be abusing the system,” Miskin said. “We do talk to members about reimbursement. Members are very sensitive to that because it's taxpayers' dollars.”

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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