HARRISBURG — State Rep. Dan Truitt, a Republican from Chester County, has more than a dozen co-sponsors for a bill that he will soon introduce to eliminate the use of unvouchered expense reimbursements claimed by lawmakers for meals and lodging, typically when they travel to Harrisburg.
In the most extreme cases, lawmakers racked up more than $25,000 last year by billing the state when they traveled from their home districts.
The House was in session just 67 days in 2012 and the Senate was in session 59 days. But some lawmakers claimed reimbursements more than 100 times, including days when they traveled to committee sessions.
Truitt said his legislation would require that lawmakers submit receipts for reimbursement for their travel expenses.
His legislation would not bar lawmakers from claiming those expenses.
The per diems are intended to compensate those lawmakers who represent districts that are hours from Harrisburg.
Pennsylvania is one of 45 states that allow lawmakers to request compensation for unvouchered expenses. Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island do not allow lawmakers to claim per diems, according to information provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The biggest payments were made to western Pennsylvania lawmakers. Rep. Dominic Costa, a Democrat
from Allegheny County, was paid $25,596 for 146 per diem requests in 2012. Rep. Chris Sainato, a Democrat from Lawrence County was paid $24,306 for 162 per diem requests, according to information obtained by filing a Right to Know request.
Rep. Mark Longietti, Hermitage, D-7th District, was paid $21,867 for 130 per diem requests; Rep. Dick Stevenson, Grove City, R-8th District, received $13,402 for 82 per diem requests; Rep. Michele Brooks, Jamestown, R-17th District, received $8,802 for 54 requests; and Sen. Robert D. “Bob” Robbins, Salem Township, R-50th District, received $12,407 for 92 per diems.
Longietti, whose per diem pay for the last two-year session ranked fourth highest in the state House, told The Herald last week that the money he received is the result of actively representing his constituents 250 miles away from the capital.
In order to participate in four committees and two subcommittees, Longietti said, he averages about 150 nights a year in a hotel in Harrisburg.
“There are two choices to make: Either be very active and attend or don’t, and keep the per diems down,” he said. “And I plan to continue to be very active in making sure the voices of my constituents are heard when there are laws to be considered.”
The payments are in addition to the $83,802 yearly base salary paid to lawmakers.
Truitt said he hopes more of his colleagues will support the measure once they understand that the legislation would allow them to continue receiving reimbursement for their travel expenses.
Truitt said he is not convinced that the legislation would save much money, but it would provide greater transparency about the way lawmakers are spending tax dollars.
“It could be a wash,” Truitt said. “I think the public wants us to do business the way most other businesses do.” Truitt said that public pressure is the only way that his legislation will gain traction in the Legislature.
Most of the lodging per diem payments were for $159 or $163 a night. But in some cases, lawmakers were reimbursed in excess of $200 a night, records provided by the House and Senate show.
Sen. Jake Corman, R-34, of Centre County, said that the per diems are tied to federal calculations and are supposed to represent the cost of a night’s lodging plus meals for the day. As a result,in some cases, lawmakers who are not spending the night in Harrisburg will submit what are called partial per diems to get reimbursed for meals. Corman who lives about two hours from Harrisburg, only submitted 11 per diems for lodging in 2012. The bulk of Corman’s $5,466 in per diem payments were for meals.
Corman agreed with Truitt’s suggestion that eliminating per diems might not save money if the move also lifts the ceiling on how much lawmakers can spend.
Sen. John Gordner, R-27, of Columbia County, serves on the operational committee that sets the rules regarding how per diems can be claimed and said the last time the group looked at the issue, they modified the requirement to compel lawmakers to specify whether the request was for lodging.
Otherwise, the per diem system has not been a priority, said Gordner, who received $10,335 in per diem reimbursement payments last year.