Legislators getting $16 ‘per diem’ boost

Most state legislators will soon get a $16 per day increase in the daily stipend they are paid while engaged in lawmaking endeavors, but not in time for the special session that begins today.

Legislators’ general “per diem” expense payment is currently at $204 per day, but will increase to $220 per day effective Oct. 1, according to Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration. Under state law, the payment rate is adjusted each year, based on what the federal government pays its employees for spending a day away from home in Nashville.

The federal formula is based on two parts — one for the average cost of spending a night in a motel; the other for the average estimated daily cost of meals for a Nashville visitor. Starting Oct. 1, Ridley said the formula pegs the daily meal cost at $59, the same as now. But the motel cost average is up to $161, a $16 increase.

Thus, legislators living more than 50 miles from the state capitol complex will get $220 per day, a $16 increase. Middle Tennessee legislators living within a 50-mile drive will still get just $59.

All legislators get 47 cents per mile for driving a vehicle from their homes to the Legislative Plaza. Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, has the longest commuted, listed as 588 miles round-trip on the Legislature’s website for a $276.36 payment. Rep. Harold Love Jr., D-Nashville, has the shortest, six miles round-trip for $2.83.

Ridley said in an email that per diem and mileage payments together cost taxpayers about $25,000 per day when the Legislature is in session, or about $75,000 for the three-day special session.

That doesn’t include an array of other expenses that come up when all legislators gather, including office materials and supplies, copying, the possibility of overtime for some staff members, the costs associated with video streaming of legislator meetings and various miscellaneous costs. Ridley declined to estimate those expenses for the coming three-day special session.

There’s one unusual miscellaneous expense for this week’s session:

The underground Motlow Tunnel, which connects the Legislative Plaza that houses most legislative offices to the state Capitol building that houses the House and Senate chambers, has been closed for “construction work, elevator maintenance and repairs,” Ridley said in an email. The Legislature will thus pay for three vans to shuttle lawmakers from their office area to the Capitol. Ridley said the three vans, with driver, will cost $48 per hour each for a minimum of three hours per day, which she thinks will probably be all the time necessary.