Carpe Per Diem

Jennifer Kerns
Taxpayer Advocate & Republican Communications Strategist

As Governor Brown searches the State budget for programs to cut, I would like to suggest an area that merits a hard look.

The State Senate took advantage of a Friday “check-in session” prior to the 3-day holiday weekend. Most folks in Sacramento know that a “check-in session” occurs on days when the Legislature doesn’t normally meet (such as Tuesdays and Wednesdays), and on a rare occasion such as a critical budget vote when Legislators may need to stick around in case they are needed. Fair enough.

The problem is, “check-in sessions” today have become nothing more than another gimmick through which politicians line their pockets at the taxpayers’ expense.

Case in point: Legislators weren’t needed last Friday, but they “checked in” anyway. Members of the State Senate signed in with a clerk, met for less than 10 minutes, and pocketed nearly $600 in per diem – money that covered their living expenses, meals, and incidentals for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday’s Martin Luther King holiday – days they weren’t even working.

This is all thanks to a little-known provision in the California Constitution that says Legislators may collect per diem every day so long as they are not in recess in excess of three calendar days. So, you can see how these pesky Monday holidays can really throw a wrench in the politicians’ scheme to milk the taxpayers for all they’re worth. Never fear, members have found a way to make it work to their benefit: return on Friday to “check in” so the time clock doesn’t elapse, their per diem stays intact, and all is right with their world again.

Doesn’t sound to me like a Legislature that is concerned about every dollar spent.

If Governor Brown is serious about stopping out-of-control spending, perhaps he ought to look in his own backyard. Seems to me his Tax increase is going to be an increasingly tough sell if these games are still going on in the Legislature.

Until then, let your Legislator know that his (or her) cashing in did not go unnoticed. Call their office and ask if they took the per diem for the Martin Luther King weekend. Then tell them you’ll be watching to see if they have the nerve to pull the same stunt around the three-day holiday weekend of Cesar Chavez Day in March, at the same time they’re peddling the largest Tax increase in state history.

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