Many Lawmakers Collect Per Diem During Budget Impasse

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, September 15, 2008

Lawmakers have finished their work for the year on bills.  So when they gather for sessions now, their business is about the budget—now well over two months overdue. And for many lawmakers that means they’re collecting extra pay— their “per diem”.  Most state legislators receive 170-dollars a day—or nearly 12-hundred dollars a week.  It’s used by lawmakers to maintain a second home outside their districts in Sacramento.
Jon Waldie is the Chief Administrative Officer for the State Assembly.  He says since the lower house has met only a few times in the last two weeks—members receiving per diem have only gotten it for that day’s session—not a full week of payments. 
 “It runs the Assembly currently approximately 11-thousand dollars a day every time we have a session for per diem…” 
He explains that normally this time of year, lawmakers would not be getting that per diem pay at all—because they wouldn’t be at the state Capitol. 
“They would be in their districts, they’d be communicating with constituents, they’d be trying to get together for next year’s session.” 
However, with the start of the new fiscal year and no budget in place, lawmakers are only accruing their per diem— it will be paid to them in a lump sum once a budget is approved.
In the heat of the negotiations, Governor Schwarzenegger has sounded off about those extra payments.  Carmen Balber is the Political Reform Director with the group Consumer Watchdog.  She says lawmakers’ collecting per diem right now is outrageous. 
“I don’t think there’s any other appropriate response than to reject extra payments during the time when legislators are only in Sacramento because they failed to do what Californians elected them to do.” 
At least nine Assembly members and one state Senator have written letters saying they will not accept per diem pay while lawmakers continue with the budget.  Among them is Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. 
“I don’t want accepting per diem to be a distraction I believe the most important this is to settle the budget—then if me accepting per diem detracts from that, then that’s more important.” 

The Los Angeles area Democrat says going without per diem is a hardship—because of having to maintain two households.