(H/T – Owen)
On Thursday, via a secret ballot and with no public meeting, the Committee on Assembly Organization unanimously made several changes to the per-diem and mileage reimbursement system for the Assembly. The media reporting of this, both traditional and new, has been a bit of a hash, with no one source having the entire story, so allow me to summarize everything that is known:
- The per-diem for Assembly members who set up a temporary residence in Madison (e.g., stay at a hotel overnight) has been raised from $88 per day, where it has been since 2001 to $137.70 (incorrectly reported in most reports as $138) per day. That raise is in accordance with state law also passed in 2001 setting the maximum per diem at 90% of the federal per diem for federal employees traveling to Madison, which the $88/night was at least close to at the time.
- The per-diem for Assembly members who do not set up a temporary residence in Madison, including by rule all those who live in Dane County, has been raised from $44 per day to $68.85 per day (half that of those who do set up a temporary residence).
- Instead of receiving mileage compensation for one round trip to the Capitol per week, those living at least 25 miles from the Capitol will receive mileage compensation for two round trips per week, while those living within 25 miles of the Capitol will receive none.
- Instead of receiving a per diem for every weekday spent in Madison on official business, and every weekend day spent in Madison when either the Legislature is in session or a committee a legislator is a part of is in session, Assembly members will receive only either a maximum of two “day-trip” per diems or one “overnight” per diem per week when in Madison on official business.
I do appreciate that the hotels that offer special “legislator” rates in an attempt to allow the $88/night “overnight” per diem to be close to break-even may well be losing money in doing so, and that even with said special rates, it isn’t quite enough to cover anything more than staying at a somewhat-remote Motel 6 and eating McDonald’s food. I even applaud the slight modernization of the mileage reimbursement, especially because it is rather easy to commute from, say, Milwaukee on a normal legislative day (though the all-night sessions do put a crimp in that plan).
However, I do have a couple of issues with the new system. First, even though Speaker Robin Vos, chair of the organization committee, did eventually say that every member of the committee voted for the new rule, the fact that it was a secret ballot and not conducted as part of a public meeting of the committee is quite troubling.
Second, the “day-trip” per diem, even though it is still at the traditional half of the “overnight” per diem, is incredibly high. As Captain Ned points out in the comments at Boots and Sabers, the federal per diem for meals in Madison is only $56 per day. To be within the spirit of the law, the “day-trip” per diem should be $50.40 per day. Owen points out in said comments that many private companies have per-meal per diems, and gave an example of $10 per breakfast, $15 per lunch and $25 per dinner (which conveniently adds up to $50 for the three meals).
Still, that last item, which I only saw covered by the Wisconsin State Journal (which is why I linked to their story) and mentioned in Owen’s excerpt of same, is quite positive. In fact, that hard cap of $137.70 per representative per week should prove to be a money-saver, even with a second round trip to the Capitol per week being reimbursed.