Tea Party critical of lawmakers' tax-free perks

April 18, 2011 6:41:11 PM PDT
The financial perks that state lawmakers get are under fire. Critics say some of the expenses they should be cutting to save California money should come from their own pockets.

Just days after a state commission took away lawmakers' cars, they are going after another perk. This one would make almost anyone jealous because it is tax-free for anyone living outside a 50-mile radius of Sacramento.

The Tea Party used Monday's tax deadline to call for wiser spending of taxpayer money. Most were appalled to learn that state lawmakers are paid a $142 a day tax-free per diem for living expenses while serving in Sacramento, roughly $30,000 a year. And, that is on top of their $95,000 salary.

"This is our tax money that these people are taking and gallivanting around with, and I don't appreciate it," said Tea Party activist Angelo Andriani.

The California Citizen Compensation Commission is looking into whether that stipend should be taxed and if lawmakers should even get the money when they miss session due to illness or out-of-town business.

"Everything from a compensation point of view, we feel, has swung too far to the left, and we're just trying to bring it back to center," Charles Murray said.

The commission has already ordered lawmakers to turn in their taxpayer-funded cars and gas cards by December 1. They will get a $300 a month transportation allowance instead. In 2009, the panel also slashed their salaries by 18 percent.

"Many of us want to punish our elected officials, our politicians. We shouldn't use the compensation as a way to punish. You punish the elected officials by voting them out of office," said Democratic Assm. Rich Gordon of Menlo Park.

Former Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, who used to represent Orange County, says the per diem helped him maintain a second household in Sacramento. A car and per diem change might make the job less attractive.

"I know that I would have to think twice about it now if I were think about coming up here again," he said. "You're going to get a different type of lawmaker serving, more independently wealthy people, more retired people, perhaps younger lawmakers who don't have families."

The commission has yet to set a date for a vote. Meanwhile, an analysis by the Sacramento Bee found that both assembly members and state senators got their per diem 75 percent of the time they were absent during a session.


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