Politicians consider per diem increase

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Incoming Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, hinted last week that leaders could raise the daily expenses, or per diem, pay state representatives get for traveling and hotel costs.

Vos was one of three representatives in the Assembly to claim the highest total number of days spent in Madison during 2011 — the most recent available numbers.

Currently, state legislators in the Assembly and Senate outside Dane County receive up to $88 in per diem payments. Lawmakers in Dane County receive $44.

The rate has been at $88 since 2001, but some lawmakers are saying it might be time for a raise since traveling and hotel expenses have risen in the past 11 years.

Vos received $13,464 on top of his annual salary of $49,943 in 2011.

He joined Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, and Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, in spending 153 days in Madison during 2011.

In the Senate, former majority leader Scott Fitzgerald took the top spot spending 206 days in Madison and receiving $18,128 in per diem pay in 2011.

Overall close to $1.2 million was given to representatives and senators in 2011 for daily expenses. In 2010, that number was about $286,000 less when lawmakers were given about $900,000 in per diem expenses.

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, collected $1,672 for 19 days spent in Madison, Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, collected $9,944 for 113 days, Rep. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, received $5,148 for 113 days spent in Madison, Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, reported 135 days and received $11,880 and Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, received $13,640 for 155 days.

Loudenbeck told the Daily News she did not claim per diems for many days because, “I live nearby (she’s from Clinton). If I’m just going in and coming home I’m willing to save the state some dollars.”

Loudenbeck said she mostly “reserved use of per diems for overnight stays” in Madison.

Jay Heck, executive director for Common Cause Wisconsin, a nonpartisan lobbying group, said 2012 per diem numbers should be significantly less than in 2011.

“The figures in an election year should be much less because they adjourned in March to campaign,” he said. “While some would come back to the capital a few times, I cannot imagine you would have the same figures.”

It also didn’t surprise Heck that Vos was one of the top per diem lawmakers being the co-chair of the finance committee.

“Those in leadership typically spend more time in Madison than rank-and-file legislators,” he said.

Lawmakers do not need to collect their per diem if they wish, and only receive the daily payment when they are in Madison on state business. Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, Rep. Mark Gottlieb, R-Port Washington, former Rep. Michael Huebsch, R-West Salem, Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, and Rep. Margaret Krusick, D-Milwaukee, all declined to take their per diem in 2011. Gottlieb was named Transportation Secretary and Huebsch was named Secretary of Administration in the administration of Gov. Scott Walker.

Heck said he isn’t totally unsympathetic to raising the rate because expenses such as gas and hotel rates have increased, however, lawmakers should include more than just themselves.

“The one thing that is problematic if they grant an increase to themselves at the same time continue to deny any kind of increase or adjustment for other state workers, particularly after 2011 when they saw increases in pension contributions, I think that will outrage a lot of voters,” Heck said.

One change Heck would like to see is a requirement of all lawmakers to vote on raising the per diem. Currently, an Assembly committee would only need to vote to change the per diem, which Heck says spares other legislators from taking an unpopular vote.

“If they want to increase their per diem they all should vote and be able to justify that to voters,” he said.

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