Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Reform per diems
In our view
Gov. Tom Corbett isn't the only person in Harrisburg pushing reform measures.
State Rep. Dan Truitt, R-Chester, is proposing ways to make the Legislature more accountable. His bill proposes to eliminate per diems -- guaranteed tax-free payments lawmakers receive for attending meetings -- and instead require legislators to provide receipts in order to be reimbursed.
That's not a novel idea except, perhaps, in the state Legislature.
Lawmakers who live more than 50 miles from the state capital currently receive $163 per day to attend sessions in Harrisburg and for trips they make on government business in addition to their $83,802 annual salary. The money is supposed to be used for food and board -- $111 for housing and $52 for meals.
Total per-diem payments over the past two-year legislative session totaled $3.9 million. For some members, the per diems are the equivalent of a well-paid second job. Three state representatives -- Democrats Dom Costa, Allegheny; Mark Cohen, Philadelphia; and Chris Sainato, Beaver, each received more than $52,000 in per diem payments over the past two-year term. Among Republicans, Rep. Richard Geist, R-Blair, was reimbursed $48,122, according to the Tribune-Review newspaper which filed a Right-to-Know request with the House clerk's office.
A number of citizen groups have called upon the Legislature to reform the process, arguing that these unvouchered expenses amount to wasteful spending.
Not everyone agrees with that assessment. State Rep. Mike Sturla contends that the per-diem system is not abused and actually saves taxpayers money.
Sturla may be correct: Per diems may cost taxpayers less than actual expenses, but how would anyone know?
The private sector requires empoyees to provide receipts to cover expenses. That is a far more accountable and transparent system.
This is not the first time lawmakers have offered legislation to reform the per-diem system. A similar proposal was introduced at the beginning of the last session. It went nowhere.
Committee assignments require lawmakers to travel to different parts of the state to hold hearings, meet with leaders and investigate issues. That costs money. No one disputes that.
But any and all reimbursed expenses ought to require a receipt. Some lawmakers post their expenses online, but that ought to be required of all legislators.
The irony is that even among lawmakers who accept per diems, most say they would be amenable to changing the system to require receipts for expenses.
Not only would that afford greater accountability, it would remove any perception of wrongdoing.
That alone is reason enough to reform the system.