The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

Are Legislators Misusing Per Diem Payments?

with one comment

A few weeks ago, we compared South Carolina’s per diem payments for legislators and found that South Carolina is on the high end. If legislators cut the session to 45 days and $100 per diem, it would save taxpayers roughly $600,000.

Similarly, Senators Mike Rose and Tom Davis made an official statement in the legislative journal on June 17, 2010, noting that:

“By our estimation over $300,000 would be saved if House and Senate members received a per diem, within limits, only for their actual and verified food and lodging expenses, as required by private businesses and other government agencies, instead of giving legislators in excess of $130 each day the Senate or House is in session even when no food or lodging expense is incurred.”

This is based on the current five-month long session – one of the longest in the nation.

Granted, saving $300,000 isn’t much, but it’s important as a symbolic step in changing the culture of privilege at the state Legislature. After all, why shouldn’t per diem match actual expenses?

A comparison of legislative salaries shows there are many states that require vouchers and receipts before full per diem is paid out.

As reported in The Nerve earlier this year, several states have already enacted cuts to their per diem as a show of “good faith.”  Illinois cut its daily reimbursement by $28 and Tennessee legislators offered to freeze per diem expenses.

In California, four legislators opted to turn down all per diem reimbursements – forfeiting $142/day.

That said, abuse is also common in other states:

  • Other California legislators took thousands of dollars in per diem even though they weren’t actually present in Sacramento
  • In New York, legislators have received $33 million in expenses since the year 2000. New York legislators received $171 per day in per diem. According to a recent story: “… if a lawmaker can find a $50-a-night hotel room — which some said they are able to do through their special government rate — they can go out on nice dinners or simply pocket whatever is left.”
  • In Texas, some legislators have been using campaign funds for hotels and lodging but then still collecting per diem expenses.

If lawmakers across the country are taking advantage of the per diem system, what’s to say South Carolina legislators aren’t doing the same?

The point of per diem is to provide legislators with enough compensation for any expenses incurred while performing public duties. If that’s the case, then there should be proper documentation to ensure the system is not being abused.

Nine states require legislators to use vouchers in order to receive per diem compensation. A system that required more documentation, rather than simply a blank check, would show taxpayers that legislators are willing to take at least a small step toward greater transparency and accountability.


Written by Geoff Pallay

September 29, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Transparency

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. […] The Palmetto Insider takes a look at the per diem system of SC legislators. […]

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