In any language, Pennsylvania lawmakers fleece the taxpayer
On top of their generous salary and benefits package, Pennsylvania legislators collect $141 a day just to show their faces at the state Capitol.
What little faith Pennsylvania taxpayers had left in their state lawmakers has been shaken again by new revelations of greed in Harrisburg.
The Associated Press reported recently that a dozen Pennsylvania legislators collected more in "per diems" last year than lawmakers earned in salary in 28 other states.
The term "per diem" is Latin for "by the day." A day doesn't go by when Pennsylvania legislators haven't figured out a new way to pick the pockets of constituents,
Some Pennsylvania lawmakers have collected more than $46,000 in per diems — payments for meals and lodging while on official duty — over the last two years, according to a review of expense records.
The payments, among the most generous of all states at $141 per day, are in addition to the $72,187 base salary that Pennsylvania lawmakers enjoy.
Is there any other job where a person gets paid just to show up for work?
The 253 members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly are the second highest paid in the nation, but when you factor in all the perks they’ve given themselves through the years, Pennsylvania has the most expensive legislature in the country.
Legislators defend per diems as an appropriate reimbursement method widely used by corporate America. But Tim Potts, the founder of Democracy Rising PA, a Harrisburg watchdog group, called per diems "income generators."
"It's one of the first things legislators learn in freshman orientation: Maximize income, minimize expenses, leave rich," Potts said.
Rules for per diems in Pennsylvania are scant and loose, according to the Associated Press. Legislators can get them when voting at the Capitol, when attending committee meetings, and even just for showing up to work in Harrisburg when the legislature is not in session.
Rep. Mark Cohen, the Philadelphia Democrat who billed taxpayers $28,200 for his private library, took more than $46,000 in per diems over the past two years. The Associated Press reported that Cohen owns a home two blocks from the Capitol, so his claims that the per diem covers his hotel expenses when he’s in Harrisburg is dubious, at best.
"I'm a very hard worker. I do a lot of paperwork in the office. I take the job extremely seriously," said Cohen, who is the third-ranking Democrat in the House.
Each year, Pennsylvania taxpayers cover about $2.7 million in per diems, according to the Associated Press. That's on top of a $650 a month car allowance, full pension and premium health insurance legislators receive — all paid for by taxpayers.
The per diem revelation is just the latest example of the betrayal of the public trust by self-serving public officials.
It's time for voters to put a stop to the legislative gravy train. All 203 members of the Pennsylvania House and half of the 50-member state Senate will face the voters in 2006.
Pennsylvanians must show up in record numbers for the May 16 primary election to send a clear message that they are tired of being fleeced by career politicians.
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas