Tue, Nov 16, 2021 2:21 PM
By Scott McClallen | The Center Square, The Center Square
(The Center Square) – Minnesota taxpayers paid $2 million to cover lawmakers’ per diem travel costs despite many of them working from home.
Fox 9 first reported the story using an analysis of finance records. Per diem is paid out on top of lawmakers' $48,250 base salary for living and travel expenses to St. Paul seven days a week during the regular legislative session.
Senators can collect $86 a day for every week during session for a $13,000 boost while House members can take $66 a day, adding nearly $10,000 to their pay, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Fox’s analysis found several representatives claimed the $9,900 per diem for regular and special sessions despite saying they traveled to St. Paul just a few times during roll call.
Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, 2 days Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, 3 daysRep. Patty Acomb, DFL-Minnetonka, 4 daysRep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, 5 daysRep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, 5 daysRep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, 6 daysRep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, 7 daysRep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, 8 daysRep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, 8 daysRep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, 9 days
Critics of per diem say the pay isn’t needed if lawmakers can work without leaving the house.
"If you are at home in your den wearing your fuzzy slippers, you’re not incurring those additional expenses,” Hamline University political science professor David Schultz told Fox. “You are already being paid to do your job.”
In March, the Legislative Salary Council criticized per diem pay as a "non-transparent form of additional salary." It called on lawmakers to only reimburse for actual expenses.
Lawmakers are preparing to continue working remotely next year, the House Session Daily reported, so lawmakers will likely continue taking taxpayer per diem money.
“As we prepare for the 2022 session, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to bring uncertainty," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, wrote in a Thursday email to House members and staff. "We had hoped for a normal return to session, but like private and public sector employers that have had to postpone plans for a return to in-person work, the House will continue remote and hybrid operations at least through the end of the 2022 regular session. This decision was not made lightly, but with full consideration for the health and safety of members, staff, and the public, as well as the need to minimize disruptions to legislative business while ensuring the public’s ability to participate in the legislative process."
Neither the Hortman's office nor the Senate GOP responded to a request for comment whether per diem pay should continue.