Local legislators heed message regarding expenses
Attune to the concerns of an increasingly skeptical public, the region's two local state legislators are helping chart a new course when it comes to accountability and spending.
Neither Rep. Kurt Masser, R-107, nor Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver, R-108, take per diems for meals or lodging regarding their time spent in Harrisburg. The lawmakers, both in the first year of their second two-year terms, promised as much during their campaigns.
Veteran state Sen. John Gordner, whose Berwick home is approximately 95 miles from the Capitol - 25 miles further than Masser's and 40 more than Culver's - does take per diems for lodging, but not meals.
As detailed in Robert Swift's report in Sunday's edition, state lawmakers as a whole collected more than $2 million in per diems for food and lodging expenses in 2011-12. It's not peanuts.
Also, Masser and Culver, joining the Legislature in 2011 amid continuing cries for reform sparked by the infamous 2005 late-night pay raise, were both adamant from the start that they would not use state vehicles and wouldn't ask for mileage reimbursement for their daily commute. As Culver rightly said at the time, "It's normal for people in the district to drive back and forth to Harrisburg daily to their state jobs. They don't get reimbursement."
They've backed that up by also forgoing the per diem expenses - which are tax-free daily allowances that require no documentation of how the money is spent. The top amount by a House member in 2011-12 was $31,166.
Culver has gone a step further, posting reports on her legislative website about her expenses. The more transparency, the most trust built with the public.
Capitol activist Eric Epstein, cofounder of RocktheCapital.com, said many lawmakers still abuse the per diem system, but it appears at least some of the fresher faces in Harrisburg got the public's message loud and clear in regards to being accountable to the public for their expenses.