Carpe Per Diem

Aaron Gould Sheinin at the AJC has looked at per diem filing of the General Assembly.

[chairman of the Committee on Information and Audits Chuck] Sims said he checks the report each month, as required by state law. If anything looks unusual or raises a red flag, he’ll alert the speaker. [Senate Rules Committee Chairman Don] Balfour said he looks it over.

But state law says that the Senate Rules Committee must have an audits subcommittee “to examine and review, not less than once every two months, legislative expenditures, including all vouchers submitted by members of the Senate, as provided for in this Code section, for which the members have received payment. The subcommittee is authorized to issue reports of its examination and review.”

No such subcommittee exists.

Its not like these guys are experts on Georgia laws or anything. Oh wait.

The biggest recipients of the payouts since January 2008 in the House were former Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain), who was the Transportation Committee chairman and is now commissioner of the Department of Transportation. He’s followed by former Speaker Mark Burkhalter (R-Johns Creek), who was speaker pro tem for most of the time in question, and Appropriations Committee Chairman Ben Harbin (R-Evans).

The top recipients in the Senate were Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill (R-Reidsville), Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth), Sen. Greg Goggans (R-Douglas) and Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour (R-Snellville).

Each made more than $40,000 in per diems in the time period.

23 comments

  1. drjay says:

    not sure what the period covers, but just the 2 legislative periods in 08 and 09 equals 80 days. so to make 40k they would have to be doing the states business for another 150 or so days during that time, for positions like speaker pro tem, and chairs of big cttes that seems completely reasonable, is there some point tring to be made here? other than the lack of auditing that is supposed to take place….

  2. Wiley says:

    Not only are these guys not doing their part to cut costs during the worst economic times any of these Senators have ever seen, they are flouting the law. If state law says their should be a audit subcommittee, there should be an audit subcommittee. And if there isn’t, maybe we know now why Senate Rules Committee members like Shafer haven’t spoken up – they don’t want to have their $40,000 taxpayer dollars being scrutinized.

  3. chefdavid says:

    What would be neat would to do a cross reference of who sponsors study committee resolutions vs. who gets put on them and I think we will see a pattern here.

  4. edmund says:

    what on earth was shafer doing at the Capitol for 207 days over the past year?

    the guy isn’t in leadership and doesn’t exactly have the most demanding schedule once the gavel falls, so all that’s left to do is hang out with lobbyists and revel in the gossip du jour I guess.

    • Chris says:

      Actually edmund, Senator Shafer _IS_ part of leadership. He is chairman of a very busy (too busy in my opinion) committee: Regulated Industries.

      • Wiley says:

        Everyone has committee work – he does not play a caucus wide role, that type of leadership im sure is what he was referring to. Let’s see Senator Shafer, did you spend those extra 207 days working on regulated industry? Also, if he is part of “Senate Leadership” that gives him the right to blast $40,000 in taxpayer money? That’s basically what your saying. Hey anyone chairing a busy committee – stand up and get your extra $40,000.

    • Velasco says:

      I wasn’t aware that the sloppy floyd lunch floor qualified for a per diem….surely there’s a Chick-Fil-A closer to Duluth…

  5. redrock says:

    @drjay

    The period covers one fiscal year – thus only one legislative session is covered in those figures.

    So Shafer, who billed the state 34 more days than any other senator is 167 days over the 40 you would take for session days.

    With running his businesses on top of that, I doubt those 167 extra days were all legitimate state business work days.

    I think “the point trying to be made” is that they are abusing the per diem system.

    • drjay says:

      well i ended up having to read the article, it is stil a little confusing in a couple of spots, but it appears to actually cover a period of over 2 years

      “so-called per diem payments from Jan. 1, 2008, through March 19, 2010”

      while i’ll agree that better oversight appears warranted, i would not go so far to say they are gaming the system based on these numbers…

  6. todd rehm says:

    First, I believe legislators are paid per diem for the days they are in session, so we’re down to 127 days for Shafer over a two-year period.

    Figure there are about 20 days per session when there are committee meetings but no Session. Per diem is paid for each of these. That’s 40 days over two sessions, so we’re down to 87 days.

    87 days over 16 months is 5.5 days per month in the non-session. Is 5.5 days per month for the Chair of one of the most technically-oriented committees out of line? I don’t think so.

    Disclaimer: I worked for Shafer in 2009.

    • Wiley says:

      First of all, that’s based on the assumption of something you “believe.” And coming from someone who worked for him, I would “believe” you would defend his actions no matter how many days it turned out to be. If what you “believe” is true, there is still this issue, from the AJC article:

      “Shafer’s complaint raises another potential problem with the system. Legislators have until April 15 to submit vouchers for days worked in the previous year. Some lawmakers, like Shafer, often submit multiple vouchers at a time, sometimes months after the days were actually worked.”

      Also, 5.5 days per month for the Chair is not out of line, if that’s the case. But obviously he doesn’t respect the taxpayers money enough to properly keep track of his expenses, or just circumvents the process altogether.

      But most importantly how do you explain the absence of a subcommittee that is, by law, suppose to oversee these expenses? Especially when the absence of this subcommittee is the direct responsibility of Shafer – member of Rules committee?

      • todd rehm says:

        Dearest Wiley,

        Since my earlier post, which you found so lacking, I have spoken to a state representative who confirmed that (1) legislators are paid a per diem for session days; and (2) legislators are paid a per diem for days during the session in which the General Assembly is not in session but committee meetings are held.

        So take your snarky quotation marks and shove them up your ass.

        As far as the absence of a subcommittee, I suggest you direct your inquiries to the Chairman of the Rules Committee. His name is Don Balfour.

        If Balfour’s response is inadequate, you might inquire of the Vice Chair of Rules, Bill Hamrick.

        If you still are not satisfied, perhaps Mitch Seabaugh, who may or may not still be Secretary of the Committee on Rules, may be able to enlighten you.

        Once you have those answers, maybe you can reasonably start blamestorming the rank-and-file members of the Committee. Until then, please see my earlier suggestion re: quotation marks.

        And while we’re on the subject of my complete lack of credibility because I disclosed that I worked for Senator Shafer a year ago, who are you and for whom do you work?

  7. gopgal says:

    Is a per diem listed as an expense account payment or as income? In other words, how is it taxed?

    • Ramblinwreck says:

      My understanding is that it is not taxed. Therefore, when someone like Senator Mullis who got $34K in per diem according to this report gets over $17K/year spend on his care and feeding by lobbyists trying to influence his vote he doesn’t have to spend the per diem. It goes right to his bottom line. SWEET! I’m sure others get the same treatment.

      Seems strange that ther per diem is the same for an elected rep in Atlanta (I’m assuming they take it) as it is for someone from Savannah who actually has to travel and spend the night in most cases. I say they start turning in receipts for actual expenses. In many county governments you can take per diem to cover travel in advance but you have to clear your account with receipts and turn in any unspent amount. Cumbersome? Yes. But it cuts down on the abuse.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Wreck, you’re correct about per diem not being subject to income taxation. The real kicker is lawmakers that may use campaign contribuations for any travel expenses not in excess per diem, in which they’re committing income tax fraud by pocketing the per diem, in essence converting campaign contributions to income (as suggested by the AJC.)

        I think per diem may be granted for other sanctioned legislative business beyond session and committee meeting days.

        Below is a general comment not intended to impune Shafer or any other lawmaker in particular, but there may well be no minimum time spent on state busines on a particular day to qualify to claim per diem, or even a requirement there be travel on state business. If there’s no travel or other expense, per diem is then income and should be reported by the lawmaker and subject to income taxation. (And by expense I’m not talking about a lawmaker providing a piece of paper and the use of a pen while telephonically conducting business from home?–don’t know if this circumstance could qualify for per diem.)

        That said, a lawmaker could purposefully arrange for a couple hours state business each weekday, then notch five days per diem.

      • Chris says:

        There is a benefit that lawmakers who live > 50 miles from the gold dome get that aren’t available to the locals. I think the locals pay income tax on the per diem while the out of area reps don’t.

  8. In The Arena says:

    Great headline. Carpe Per Diem is one of the funniest and most approporiate in a while.

    The name that keeps popping up here as hurting the state is Vance Smith. His per diem is the least of the ways he has cost Georgia.

    What has he done to deserve being head of the DOT? What has he accomplished since he got there? He single handedly stalled the transportation negotiations on sine die 2009. Vance Smith is the reason we do not already have a transportation solution in place.

  9. jillchambers says:

    Legislators who live less than 50 miles from the Capitol ARE TAXED on per diem and we are issued a W-2.

    http://www.legis.ga.gov/legis/2009_10/fulltext/hb1356.htm

    HB 1356 has 147 sections and is intended to help control costs on per diem for boards, commissions, councils, etc. Yes, the intention of the legislation is to include all legislators serving on any of these entities to NOT GET ANY per diem either!

    Section 37 of the has a technical error without the strike out of the legis per diem.

    Section 63 is correct.

    Even though this bill was dropped too late to be considered for a vote, the idea has certainly stimulated and inspired a local reporter! Debate and the needed corrections to the technical error will not happen this year.

    If every entity listed in HB 1356 met for just one day, with all members present, the cost to the state will be aprox $15 million in per diem. Some of those boards/commissions have over 30 members!!!

    Senator Jack Hill has a similar bill – he presented it in House Rules today.

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