Unchecked per diem payouts must end for lawmakers
Many Pennsylvania lawmakers continue to collect the largest possible daily expense payments they can while failing to detail what they do with the money. That lack of transparency should end.
Recently the Corbett administration and legislators unveiled a valuable new Internet tool, PennWATCH (http://www.pennwatch.pa.gov), that provides data on state spending, budgets, contracts and other financial matters. But there are no data on legislative expenses, pensions, travel and other spending by lawmakers.
According to the Associated Press, state lawmakers were paid daily expense reimbursements of more than $3.9 million over the course of the most recent two-year legislative session.
The IRS sets reimbursement rates by city; Harrisburg's was about $160 a day last year; Philadelphia, where many lawmakers attended legislative hearings, was $242.
Most lawmakers simply claim the highest possible amount regardless of whether they actually spent it. They are not required to submit receipts.
Rep. Dominic Costa, an Allegheny County Democrat, received the most expense money over the two years - $55,495. He told the Tribune-Reivew of Pittsburgh, that the money is not a perk, but "part of the job."
No one begrudges lawmakers valid expense reimbursements. But those expenses should be validated through actual receipts and automatically disclosed on PennWATCH. Now, even the per diem distributions are available only through formal right to know requests unless lawmakers voluntarily disclose their shares. Some do, some don't.
It's more than just a question of the actual dollars. Receipt disclosure also would reveal where lawmakers stay and where they wine and dine, which could lead to other valid questions.
This is a simple matter of transparency that elected officials should stop evading.