NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A bill calling for a comprehensive study of lawmaker allowances has been killed in a House committee after unanimously passing the Senate.
Republican state Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville made the motion in the House State Government Committee on Tuesday to delay consideration of the measure until after the Legislature adjourns next year.
The resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet calls for the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to study the daily allowances paid to lawmakers when they are conducting business at the Capitol. It passed the Senate on a 32-0 vote.
Todd called the study unnecessary because the information about costs is already available.
A separate bill would strip the $107 daily hotel allowance from lawmakers living within 50 miles of the Capitol.
The House approved 71-15 Monday evening a bill that would – if the Senate agrees – reduce automatic daily expense payments to legislators living near Nashville by $107 per day.
“I find it hard to look constituents in the eye when they ask, ‘Why we paying you 107 a day for a hotel you don’t use’,” said Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, sponsor of HB80.
Legislators now get $173 per day as an automatic “per diem” daily expense allowance. The bill eliminates $107 of that – the amount calculated to cover the cost of a motel room – for those whose residence is within 50 miles of the state Capitol building. They would continue to receive the remaining $66, deemed the amount needed for meals, and would collect mileage from the state for commuting daily.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville criticized the proposal, saying the 50 mile rule was arbitrary and unfair. Womick said that is the standard set by the Internal Revenue Service, which considers the payments as taxable income for legislators living within 50 miles.
In fact, Womick said a secondary advantage was the IRS would collect less in taxes from the affected legislators, including himself. He said about $45 of the $107 he has been collecting has been “sent straight to Washington.”
The companion bill has been stalled in a Senate committee for weeks after Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said he wants to consider an amendment that would instead require legislators to submit an actual motel bill receipt for reimbursement.
Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, also criticized the bill, saying legislators, regardless of where they live, do not receive enough for their work. She quoted Gov. Bill Haslam as saying at a recent reception for legislators that he calculates legislators actually are paid about 50 cents an hour for their labors.
Republicans in the House and Senate appear at odds over a proposal to reduce the amount of money lawmakers living within 50 miles of Nashville get as a daily expense allowance.
The House State Government Subcommittee approved Wednesday the bill (HB80) as filed and sponsor Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, promised to reject any amendments. In the Senate State and Local Government, meanwhile, the bill has been delayed to consider an amendment proposed by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro.
As introduced, the bill would reduce the automatic “per diem” expense payment by $107 per day – the amount calculated to cover the cost of a motel room in Nashville. Lawmakers would still get $66 per day that is attributed to meals and other expenses, plus mileage for commuting.
Ketron said in the Senate committee that he has heard of a lawmaker, living more than 50 miles from Nashville, “milking the system” by sleeping in his office to avoid a motel bill. He suggested the bill be amended to instead require all lawmakers to file receipts for their motel for payment by the state.
But Womick told colleagues “you have my word” that no such amendment would be accepted. That came after Rep. Shelia Butt, R-Columbia, expressed concern that the bill could become a “slippery slope” with revisions that with paperwork requirements “could grow to cost more than the savings.”
Legislative staff estimates that the bill would save taxpayers about $250,000 per year.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to eliminate hotel allowances for some Tennessee lawmakers was put on hold Tuesday after a state Senate committee member said the reimbursement rules should be tightened for the entire Legislature.
The original bill filed by Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin would eliminate a $107-per-night hotel payment for the 33 legislators who live within 50 miles of the state Capitol.
The proposal was on the verge of a swift vote in the Senate State and Local Government Committee before fellow Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro proposed adding a requirement for lawmakers who live outside the Nashville area to submit hotel receipts.
“If we’re doing it for those under 50 miles, we should address those over 50 miles who are milking the system,” Ketron said.
Ketron said the change would alter the current practice of automatically paying each lawmaker the full daily allowance, no matter what they actually spend on their accommodations.
“There was a member who is no longer here who took the per diem and slept in his office and showered downstairs. That’s not quite fair,” Ketron said. “Or those who double up and triple up in to a motel room or an apartment.”
Lawmakers receive the hotel allowance for four days a week while the Legislature is in session, though most only stay in Nashville for three nights.
Ketron said he supports Haile’s bill, even though he is among the Nashville-area lawmakers who would lose the daily hotel allowance. The measure would continue to provide a $66 daily meals allowance for all lawmakers.
The original measure applying to just those living close to Nashville would cut an estimated $253,616 in lawmaker expenses per year.
Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman and the committee’s chairman, called for a vote to be delayed so staff could flesh out the language and estimated costs of Ketron’s proposal.
The companion bill sponsored by Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, was scheduled for a House subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.
(Note: Coincidentally, the $107 reduction in per diem payments is SB107. The daily per diem total is $173. The remaining $66 would continue to be paid to Nashville area lawmakers.)
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE) – State Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) filed legislation today to end expense account payment for lodging for state legislators who live within 50 miles of Tennessee’s State Capitol Building. Haile said Senate Bill 107 is a big step forward in reforming the per diem system through which members receive reimbursement for expenses.
“I should not be reimbursed for a hotel stay if I sleep in my own bed at night,” said Senator Haile. “This legislation would end reimbursement for lodging for those who live within a 50-mile commuting distance to the State Capitol Building.”
“We are accountable to the taxpayers, and we felt it was time to change the system,” Haile added. “This fulfills a promise I made to file this legislation as my first bill of the 2013 legislative session.”
The state law that provides for the reimbursement of legislator expenses is not a permissive statute, meaning reimbursement of the expense account is not optional. If a member chooses to reimburse the state for their expense account payment, they must write a check to the state; however, they still are required to pay taxes on the full amount to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS considers the per diem payment for those living within 50 miles of the State Capitol as income, meaning affected lawmakers must pay federal taxes on it in accordance with their guidelines.
Other Senate sponsors of the bill include Senators Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Mark Green (R-Clarksville). The bill will be sponsored by Representative Rick Womick (R-Rockvale).
When Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett attempted to clean up some old campaign finance reports in late June, he inadvertently recorded a $1,350 expense for fuel — twice. So reports The News Sentinel. He first noted the purchase — a credit card payment made to Pilot Travel Centers in March 2010 — on a state Senate disclosure report. He did it again June 22 — on his mayoral campaign report — after the News Sentinel questioned why the Pilot expense wasn’t initially on the mayoral report.
When asked Tuesday about the double claim, the mayor said he was in the middle of transitioning his election accounts and inadvertently recorded it on the wrong campaign report.
He said in a statement he is now reviewing “every expenditure of my campaign account” and making corrections where and when needed.
“I have and will continue to amend my campaign financial disclosures as required, and a full reconciliation of the accounts will be completed,” he said, providing little other detail.
The check to Pilot was one of two written by the mayor’s wife during the 2010 election that the mayor amended last month on campaign finance statements. The other was a $550 reimbursement payment to Dean Rice, his current chief of staff and former campaign manager.
Allison Burchett also wrote six checks that totaled more than $15,000 directly to herself. Those have not been recorded. Burchett says his wife has the receipts. She says he has them.
Chas Sisk has crunched legislative per diem numbers in various ways, starting with the observation that about $300,000 less of the automatic expense payments were made during the first six months of 2011 than in the same period last year’s session, a total of about $2.2 million last year versus $2.5 million this year.
The difference, of course, is that legislators had about three weeks less of daily meeting this year’s regular session than last and the per diem rate was down from $185 per day to $176 per day. The 32 state senators who served the entire 2011 term collected an average of $13,405 in daily payments, plus $2,856 in expenses, an analysis by The Tennessean found. The 98 state representatives who served the whole term collected an average of $14,135 in per diems, plus $3,108 in expenses. (The combined overall average: about $17,000.)
Republicans in the state House of Representatives received about $500 more in per diems and expense reimbursements than their Democratic counterparts. Senate Republicans collected nearly $900 more than Democrats.
Freshmen members of the House of Representatives collected an average of $16,770 in per diems and expense reimbursements, about $600 less than senior members of that chamber.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, led all state lawmakers in per diem payments, collecting $19,536, indicating he spent 111 days on legislative business. State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, collected the least, $10,384, indicating he spent 59 days on legislative business.
Sens. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, and Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, tied for the largest per diems in the Senate, $16,368. Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle collected $11,264 in per diems, the least among members of that chamber.