Sunday, December 19, 2010
The Tribune-Review's Brad Bumsted once again has his panties in a bunch over "per diems," which are taxpayer-funded payments to legislators to cover food and lodging, and which require no receipts.
This time, however, he's full of admiration for new leaders - Speaker Sam Smith and Majority Leader Mike Turzai - for "moving forward on something of symbolic importance to voters: tightening their own belts ... they want to end per diem abuse as well."
What Bumsted neglects to mention is that Turzai has been as guilty as anyone else of "per diem abuse."
As Bumsted notes: "Influential legislators have often put the arm on lobbyists to buy expensive dinners and, of course, never deducted those meal costs from their per diems. On busy days, the House or caucuses brought in catered food.
"It's called double dipping."
An examination of Turzai's per diem payments and charges to his contingency account - every committee chairman and leader controls one - shows plenty of examples of "double dipping."
In 2007 and 2008, Mike Turzai collected more than $32,000 in per diems, nearly $11,600 of it for non-session days. He also was reimbursed from his taxpayer-funded contingency account for thousands of dollars worth of meals.
* On April 13, 2007, Turzai not only collected a $148 per diem - for food and lodging expenses incurred in doing his job - he also charged the taxpayers $19.63 for a "policy breakfast meeting."
* On June 5, in addition to collecting a $148 per diem, Turzai charged his contingency account $21.60 for another "policy breakfast meeting."
* On June 11, 2007, the taxpayers bought the Policy Committee lunch for the bargain price of $218; Turzai still collected his full per diem of $148.
* On June 21, 2007, Turzai received a $148 per diem. He also charged his taxpayer-funded contingency account $218.18 for a "policy hearing lunch".
* On June 27, 2007, another day for which he collected a $148 per diem, he charged the contingency account $70 for a "policy hearing dinner meeting."
* On August 14, 2007, another full $148 per diem day, Turzai collected $31.54 from the contingency account to cover the cost of breakfast.
* On August 29,2007, the taxpayers coughed up $275 for "policy lunch and dinner," plus another $31 for "policy lunch," while Turzai collected another full $148 per diem.
Caucus policy committees, it should be noted, do not officially act on legislation. They are quasi-political entities which stage hearings designed to drum up public support for caucus priorities.
* The committee held one such hearing in Warren on September 7, 2007, regarding "mental illness and substance abuse." Turzai collected $148 for attending. He also charged his contingency account $27.52 for lunch.
* On September 12, 2007 - a non-session day, the Policy Committee met in Berwyn. Taxpayers footed the bill through the contingency account for both lunch - $178.25 - and dinner - $176.65 and then another $27.84 for dinner. Turzai - and presumably the other members of the committee - also collected a $152 per diem.
* Just five days later, on Sept. 17, 2007 - another non-session day - Turzai collected both a $152 per diem and charged $107.17 to the contingency account for lunch.
* October 29, 2007, was a bargain day for the taxpayers. While Turzai collected his full $152 per diem, he charged the contingency account only $86.28 for a lunch meeting and $80.02 for a dinner meeting.
* Turzai must not have been very hungry on November 13, 2007. Although he collected his full $152 per diem, he charged the contingency fund only $25.67 for breakfast.
* For some reason, on January 9, 2008, "lunch" ($56.35) and "drinks" ($14.13) were charged separately to the contingency account. Turzai collected his full $152 per diem.
* Turzai was being especially frugal on January 30, 2008, when he collected only $22 from the contingency account for dinner - along with his full $152 per diem, of course.
* On April 2, 2008, Turzai charged the contingency account $106.72 for dinner and collected a per diem of $152. On April 8, 2008, taxpayers were charged only $32.13 for Turzai's lunch - along with $152 for his other expenses.
Turzai's Policy Committee contingency account didn't pay for every meal Turzai or his committee members consumed when the House was in session or the committee met. Some of those meals, as Bumsted notes, may have been bought by lobbyists. And Turzai is a member of committees other than his own, which certainly provided other meals.
Turzai certainly did nothing out of the ordinary in charging meals to his contingency account while collecting his full per diems. (Nor did Mike Veon, who was charged with five felonies - of which he was acquitted - for doing the very same thing.) But Bumsted's attemps to cast Turzai as a hero of reform fall a little flat.