State lawmakers make hefty per diems

September 10, 2008 6:57:36 PM PDT
People up and down the state are suffering because there's been no budget deal, but our legislators are making out just fine.

While California's bills go unpaid, they are earning their full salaries -- plus a hefty per diem.

Nannette Question: "How much extra money do you make when you don't get your work done?" asked ABC7's Nannette Miranda.

"None. Not a penny," said a Sacramento resident.

That may be true for most us, but not for state lawmakers.

Ten weeks into the fiscal year without a budget, they are still getting their six-figure salaries and collecting a $170-a-day taxfree per diem to cover the expenses of maintaining a second residence in Sacramento. While they don't actually see the money until a budget is passed, they're running up a tab for a very nice pay day.

"They are, in effect, getting paid a bonus for staying in session longer because they didn't get the job done when it needed to get done," said Derek Cressman from Common Cause.

"Session" is loosely defined. They could meet on the floor, or just check-in with the clerk, while the chambers sit empty. Normal per diem can total $35,000, everything after August is gravy.

"If the Legislature isn't meeting on the floor, doesn't mean there aren't many meetings taking place, many conversations to try to bring a resolution to the budget," said State Senator Roy Ashburn (R) Bakersfield.

"We're working just like anybody else works. We are here, and we have to have second households," said State Senator Denise Ducheny (D) San Diego.

Some lawmakers think there should be some sort of punishment for a late state budget.

"I agree. I think there has to be some kind of carrot and stick," said

"On that note, are you taking your per diem?" asked ABC7's Nannette Miranda.

"I haven't decided. I just don't know the answer to that question," said Minority Leader Mike Villines (R) Clovis.

For most lawmakers, the answer is 'yes.' Governor Schwarzenegger has publicly scolded them for taking the money as state services are struggling to stay afloat without funding.

"They're even collecting per diem everyday when they go to the Capitol of $1000 a week tax free! Think about that, and you guys have to suffer here," said Gov. Schwarzenegger.

A small group of lawmakers from both parties are rejecting a per diem during this budget impasse. But then there are those lawmakers who are districts are close enough to the capitol to drive in everyday, yet they still legally collect the per diem.