Tag Archives: expenses

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. Continue reading

Per diem up for most legislators, down for some

Most state legislators will see an increase in their daily payment for expenses this year, but those living within 50 miles of Nashville will actually see a decrease.

The per diem expense payment for each day of work at legislative duties is adjusted annually, tracking a federal government formula that determines how much a federal worker is paid as a travel allowance when staying in Nashville.

This year, the federal formula has the average day’s stay in a Nashville motel pegged at $145 and the average cost of buying meals for a day at $59. Legislators who live more than 50 miles from Nashville get both the motel and meal allowance, or $204 per day, according to Connie Ridley, who heads the Office of Legislative Administration.

That’s a $6 per day increase over the daily payment of $198 during the 2015 legislative session and out-of-session work days. The per diem in 2015, in turn, was $10 per day higher than for the 2014 session.

But under a law that took effect in 2014, legislators who live within 50 miles of the Tennessee Capitol — about 35 of the 132 total — get only the meal allowance, not the motel allowance. And that actually decreased for 2015, from $66 per day then to the $59 per day for the 2016 session. Thus, Nashville-area lawmakers will get $7 per day less this year than last.
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Legislators get less than $2 daily increase in base pay, $10 bump in per diem

State legislators are getting a $681 increase in their annual base salary for the 109th General Assembly, along with a $10-per-day hike in their daily expense allowance, according to Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration.

At the same time, some lawmakers — the 35 who live within 50 miles of the state Capitol — will see their expense allowance reduced under a law enacted last year that did not take effect until after this year’s elections.

In the 108th General Assembly, legislators received a base salary of $20,203 per year. That amount will increase to $20,884 for the 109th General Assembly under state law that raises lawmakers’ pay in line with a formula tied to increases in state employee compensation over the past two years, Ridley said.

State employees got no general pay raise this year, but a 2013 bump upward in their compensation triggered the $681 annual base salary increase for legislators.

Also during the 2014 session of the 108th General Assembly, all legislators received a “per diem” expense allowance of $188 for each day spent on legislative duties, a figure revised annually. That amount will increase to $198 per day during the 109th General Assembly, Ridley said.
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Senate Passes Bill Cutting Per Diem Bill for Nashville Area Legislators

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Senate has passed a bill to eliminate hotel allowances for lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the state Capitol.
The proposal sponsored by Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin was approved on a 28-2 vote on Thursday. The measure would eliminate the $107-per-night hotel payment for Nashville-area legislators, though it would provide for daily mileage allowances instead of weekly ones.
The legislation would continue to provide a $66 daily meals allowance for all lawmakers.
The House approved its version on a 71-15 vote earlier this month, but would have to approve a technical change made by the Senate before the measure could head for the governor’s signature.
Annual savings are projected at more than $250,000.

Congressional Fundraising: More Fancy, More Expensive

As summer heats up and Election Day draws near, opportunities to hobnob with Tennessee lawmakers won’t be hard to find, observes Elizabeth Bewley.
Supporters can go shooting with Rep. Stephen Fincher, spend a weekend in Nashville with Sen. Lamar Alexander, cheer on the Nashville Sounds with Rep. Jim Cooper, dine at Ruth’s Chris Steak House with Rep. Scott DesJarlais, or head to the Honors Course in Ooltewah for a golf weekend with Sen. Bob Corker.
But the price tag isn’t cheap. In exchange for some time with the lawmakers, individual backers must contribute anywhere from $250 to more than $1,000. Political action committees are asked to hand over at least $1,000.
It’s not cheap for lawmakers, either. Unless such events are hosted by companies, party committees or other sponsors — as many are — the expenses come out of a lawmaker’s campaign coffers. Political experts say the cost of putting on fundraising events has shot up over the last two decades as lawmakers feel pressured to host increasingly glamorous or unusual events.
“Races are more expensive today,” said Steven Livingston, a professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University. “If you’re going to ask someone for a huge sum of money, you can’t do it over a ham sandwich.”
…Corker, a Republican, has spent at least $190,000 on catering, venue rentals, invitations and other event costs since January 2011, according to campaign finance reports running through March 31.
His campaign spent $4,292 on event rental charges at Pebble Beach Resorts in California in advance of a December golf weekend his campaign hosted there, plus $5,892 for catering and accommodations at the Honors Course in December. Corker’s highest expenses were $14,115 for invitations and envelopes in February 2011, and $8,466 for invitations in October.
…Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood has spent at least $120,000 on catering, rentals, photography and other event expenses since January 2011, campaign finance reports show. Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Jasper has spent more than $100,000 on catering and other costs labeled “fundraising expenses.”
…Clever campaign managers can bundle certain costs under the label of “consulting fees,” and events hosted by party committees, corporations or lobbyists aren’t listed among a campaign’s expenses, she said.
“This is why there are (campaign) consultants driving around in Mercedes in Washington,” she said. “You get pieces of the puzzle but you really cannot be assured that you have all the pieces.”
For example, Fincher, of Frog Jump, was one of 14 Republicans behind a recent Key Largo getaway with an admission price of at least $10,000, CBS News reported in March.

‘Good Government’ to Democrats; ‘Election-Year Games’ to GOP

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If Democrats have their way, the Tennessee General Assembly would meet only every second year, lawmakers’ daily expenses would be capped and bill sponsors would have to divulge if their legislation originated with national groups.
Democratic leaders insist their proposals are designed to promote good government. But Republicans charge the measures are election-year games.
“I’d be glad to look at any suggestions they have, but they’re playing politics,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said in a recent interview. “When they had the power to do it, they didn’t do anything about that.”
But House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville argued that most of the lawmakers sponsoring the current measures didn’t hold leadership positions before Republicans won their majority in the House in 2008.
“How long do you hold a good idea down just because a party took things a particular way several years ago?” Turner said.

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Legislator Expenses Up With Oversight Committees Closed

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.”

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Some Utility Officials Running Up Big Tabs on Ratepayers

From reporter Josh Flory:
In recent months, the News Sentinel sought travel records from local utility districts across East Tennessee and examined piles of receipts along the way. Many of them were for mundane purposes — meals at Cracker Barrel, registrations for conferences and the like.
But at some districts the records showed a willingness by employees or board members to spend ratepayers’ money on more extravagant expenses. Three local districts have either altered their travel policies or eliminated certain spending practices in recent months.

Listed expenses in the article include dinner for 18 at the Peddler in Gatlinburg for $886.99, dinner for seven at the Stock Yard in Nashville for  $430.20 and dinner for six at the Palm in Nashville for $458.93.
…The (South Blount Utility) district has adjusted its policies on travel within the last year. In an interview this month, District Manager Henry Durant said that last November TAUD (Tennessee Association of Utility Districts) held a school for commissioners, and that was when South Blount learned it was not appropriate for a district to cover meal costs for spouses who are traveling with district commissioners or employees. He said South Blount stopped that practice at the end of last year.
“We didn’t really understand that there was a problem with that,” Durant said.
Durant said that because of the News Sentinel’s inquiry, South Blount decided to seek restitution for certain expenses incurred by spouses, although he said the amount of money won’t exceed $200 or $300.
In addition, Durant said that at a recent board meeting, the district adopted a travel policy to establish a per diem expense rate for employee travel. The manager said the district thought it had a travel policy, but realized recently that it did not.

Matheny is ‘Per Diem King’ for First Six Months of 2011

Jeff Woods has looked through state legislator reports on receipt of daily expense payments and says House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, is the “per diem king” with took $19,536 for the first six months of this year.
All legislators collected roughly the same per diem during the five-month legislative session. After that, it’s up to lawmakers to decide how often they want to charge taxpayers for attending conferences or coming to Legislative Plaza for meetings or routine office work.
Other leaders in per diem so far this year are Reps. Jimmy Naifeh, $18,683; Joe Towns, D-Memphis, $18,480; Mike Kernell, D-Memphis, $18,128; and Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, $17,952.
… State Rep. Brenda Gilmore has collected the most daily expense cash of any state legislator from Nashville so far this year, according to new figures. Gilmore raked in $16,192 in the $176 daily allowances, easily more than her nearest rival for the dubious honor. That was Rep. Sherry Jones, who took $15,488,

Traveling TN Sheriff Runs Up $8,000 Taxpayer Tab to San Francisco, Alaska

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee sheriff who took office in January promising to be a “working sheriff” has billed taxpayers more than $8,000 for two trips to pick up people wanted on warrants.
Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold has gone to San Francisco and Alaska to pick up fugitives. In the process, The Daily News Journal reported, Arnold ran up a tab of $8,199, including one meal that cost $178.

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