By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lawmakers’ out-of-session expenses increased 8 percent in the third quarter despite the elimination of legislative oversight committees, an Associated Press review has found.
The state paid out about $270,000 in daily expenses and mileage reimbursements in the quarter ending Sept. 30, compared with $251,000 in the same year-ago period. The figures do not include out-of-state trips, but do include about $30,000 spent to send lawmakers to a Southern Legislative Conference meeting in Memphis in July.
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s spokesman Adam Kleinheider called the quarter’s increase a “one time blip” because of the Memphis event.
“Our members had a great opportunity to serve as ambassadors for our state and they took it,” he said. “Unified Republican government is committed to cutting government wherever and whenever it can.”
The Legislature this year voted to do away with legislative oversight committees for areas like TennCare, prisons and workers’ compensation. The elimination in staff and lawmaker expenses were projected save the state more than $850,000. That savings has been earmarked to make up for a reduction in the Hall income tax on dividends and interest for seniors.
Lawmakers’ total expenses through the first three quarters were down $368,000, or 13 percent, compared with last year, owing largely to a shorter legislative session and a $9 reduction in the daily reimbursement rate for hotel, meals and other expenses to $176.
The special legislative session in January 2010 boosted that year’s expenses, but also resulted in Tennessee winning more than $500 million in federal Race to the Top education grant.
First quarter expenses in 2010 were $1.4 million, compared with $1 million in 2009 and $1.2 million this year.
This year’s second quarter lawmaker expenses of about $937,000 were about 14 percent less than in 2010, and a 38 percent drop from the $1.3 million spent in the period in 2009.
The General Assembly adjourned on June 18 in 2009, June 10 in 2010 and May 21 this year.
Lawmaker expenses through three quarters were $2.63 million in 2009, $2.74 million in 2010 and $2.37 million this year.