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Legislator Per Diem, Mileage Freeze Flies in Senate Panel, Flops in House

A bill that would freeze state legislators’ expense allowances and mileage reimbursement rates has passed a Senate committee while being left dead in a House subcommittee.
Legislators receive $176 per day as a “per diem” expense allowance, paid automatically for each day they are engaged in legislative functions, and receive 46 cents per mile reimbursement for use of their personal vehicles while commuting to Nashville or otherwise engaged in legislative duties.
Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, proposes in SB1372 to prohibit future increases in the rates, which are typically adjusted Oct. 1 to track a federal formula. Usually, the rates go up — though last year, for the first time, the per diem rate actually declined from $185 to $176.
Finney’s bill, as amended, would reduce the rates if they decline in the future, but block any increases. That sparked some debate among members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
“Can you amend it to lower gasoline prices?” quipped Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, observed that legislators would “be stuck” at low mileage rates even if gas prices rise to $10 per gallon. He suggested that Finney amend the bill to put a freeze on city and county government officials, too.
Finney said he would “encourage” local government officials to freeze their rates but not mandate them, leaving legislators to “set an example” and save taxpayer money.
“At least we are receiving some type of reimbursement,” which is more than most average citizens commuting to and from their jobs, Finney said.
The bill passed the Senate committee 8-0 with Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Kingsport, abstaining.
Over in the House, meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley simply abandoned attempts to pass the measure this year, taking it “off notice” at the last meeting this year of the House State and Local Government Subcommittee.