A sweet deal? Lawmakers paid to stay home in bed – Salt Lake Tribune

For years now, taxpayers have shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, compensating Utah legislators for lodging, even though many of the lawmakers never set foot in a hotel.

As the Utah Legislature convenes this year, the 104-member body will be guaranteed payment for 45 nights in Little America, at a total cost of more than half a million dollars, whether they actually stay there or not.

“It truly troubles me that we’re paying a housing allowance for people who aren’t staying in housing,” said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who will sponsor legislation in the coming session to change the system. “I am very bugged by the practice.”

For rural Utah legislators, setting up camp at Little America during the legislative session is pretty much a necessity. They travel hundreds of miles to serve during the session, and a round-trip commute is impractical. To cover the costs, they are compensated more than $100 per day for the hotel costs, an amount nearly equal to their $130-a-day salary.

But other lawmakers, particularly those along the Wasatch Front, also get to pocket the lodging allowance, even if they never once lay their heads on the hotel pillow.

Last year, legislators received $107 a night for lodging, or $4,815 each for the 45 day session. Tack on the compensation for at least seven scheduled meetings held between legislative sessions, plus the two-day Special Session in September, and the tally climbs to nearly $5,800 per member — about $600,000 in taxpayer money for the entire body.

The best part? A bill to end the allowance was floated in the State Legislature last year:

Out of Context: The Tribune’s political writers’ blog

During the 2007 session, Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane (294 miles from the Capitol) sponsored House Joint Resolution 10 which would have given lawmakers the lodging payment if their attendance during the session “necessitates overnight accommodations.”

The Legislative Fiscal Analyst estimated the change would have saved the state $303,100.

But Last’s bill didn’t go far.

It only made it to the House Rules Committee, where it was voted down by five of the eight members.

Rep. Greg Hughes first amended it, so it wouldn’t take effect until the 2009 session. Then Hughes (who lives 20.75 miles from the Capitol), Rep. Jim Dunnigan (who lives 13 miles away), Rep. Kevin Garn (21.71 miles), Democrat Neal Hendrickson (12.41 miles) and then-Rep. Mark Walker (15.57 miles) voted to defeat the bill in the committee.

Four of the five representatives who killed the bill in the House Rules Committee are “fiscally conservative” Republicans, who live within 25 miles of the Capitol.

This is a spending cut the Legislature needs to pass … and it’s a simple change from:

  1. This rule governs legislative expenses when the Legislature is in annual general session.
  2. Each legislator shall receive an expense allowance equal to the sum of the federal lodging per diem rate for Salt Lake City and the federal meals and incidental expenses per diem rate for Salt Lake City.
    1. Each legislator shall receive transportation costs to and from the session.
    2. These costs shall be computed on the basis of actual mileage for private automobile use or the actual cost of alternative commercial transportation.

To:

  1. This rule governs legislative expenses when the Legislature is in annual general session.
  2. Each legislator shall receive an expense allowance equal to the sum of the federal lodging per diem rate for Salt Lake City and the federal meals and incidental expenses per diem rate for Salt Lake City.
    1. Each legislator shall receive transportation costs to and from the session.
    2. These costs shall be computed on the basis of actual mileage for private automobile use or the actual cost of alternative commercial transportation.
  3. If attendance at the annual general session necessitates overnight accommodations, legislators shall receive reimbursement for actual lodging expenses up to the federal lodging per diem rate for Salt Lake City.

Simple change … saves the state about $300-400,000 per year … a chance for the Utah Legislature to look responsible in tough times; and they killed it. All I have to say is that if the bill doesn’t pass this time around, no matter which party the people who vote against it belong to, they need to be relieved of their offices in the next election cycle; and no ifs, ands, or buts about it.