Most business people are familiar with per diems. They are a standard limit on what business travelers can be reimbursed for meals and lodging when they are away from home. The IRS calculates the rate for different geographic areas based on the actual travel costs in each area.
Most lawmakers collect per diems as well. Only there are a few differences.
- Business travelers must produce reciepts for their expenses. If they don't and they get reimbursed, the reimbursement is treated as income and subject to tax.
- Lawmakers do not have to produce receipts but most of their per diems still are not taxed.
In other words, per diems amount to a second salary - mostly tax-free - above and beyond their base salary of $80,000 plus very generous benefits.
Scroll down to link to reports on per diems for individual lawmakers.
While it makes sense to reimburse lawmakers for their actual expenses, it's impossible to know what their actual expenses are since, unlike business travelers, they don't have to document their expenses. Many lawmakers minimize their expenses while in Harrisburg by sharing apartments or even buying second homes. Also, lobbyists and legislative leaders provide most of the meals for lawmakers, reducing actual expenses far below the IRS rate. But most lawmakers' still collect per diems at the full IRS rate of more than $160 per day.
Despite the state's new open records law, the House and Senate make it very hard to find how much money each representative and senator have collected in per diems. Even so, DR has been able to obtain per diem information and organize it in a citizen-friendly way.
Below is a spreadsheet documenting the per diems paid to senators from January 2008 through October 2009. Be sure to expand the screen to see the tabs at the bottom for "All Data," "Expenses by Payee" and "Expenses by Payee and Type."
Also below are reports for per diems paid to representatives in 2009.