Most business people are familiar with "per diems." They are a standard limit on what business travelers can be reimbursed for meals and lodging when they are away from home. The IRS calculates the rate for different geographic areas based on the actual costs in each area.
Most lawmakers collect per diems as well. Only there are a few differences. Business travelers must produce receipts for their expenses. If they don't and they are reimbursed, the reimbursement is treated as income and subject to tax. Lawmakers do not have to produce receipts but most of their per diems are still not taxed.
State representatives and state senators are able to claim a per diem up to $158 each day without the need of any receipts. These per diems amount to a second salary, mostly tax-free, above and beyond the base salary of $78,314 plus very generous benefits that they already receive.
For example, a review of former state representative David Argall's expenses for 2005 through 2007 indicated that he routinely collected the maximum per diem allowable. Mr. Argall collected $15,009 in 2005 and $16,794 in 2007 as per diem income. This income was in addition to his base salary and the money that he billed for mileage while traveling to Harrisburg.
Now Tim Potts, Democracy Rising Pennsylvania, reports that Mr. Argall, who was elected to the Senate in March 2009, has collected $9,901 in per diems through September 2009. Mr. Potts notes that at this rate, Mr. Argall is on track to become the per diem king of the Senate by the time his term ends in 2012.
Elected officials are allowed to make a living, but they are not entitled to make a killing. The per diem amounts pocketed by Mr. Argall should raised questions as to whether or not his is bilking the taxpayers.
Dr. Richard Schietrumpf