If lawmakers in the state House truly don’t see raising their daily stipend for expenses by 33 percent as outrageous in the current economic climate, they are more out of touch with reality than even the most cynical among us would have thought.
Well, they — or at least those in leadership roles — are that clueless.
Deputy Chief Clerk Bernard Dean confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that House members’ per diem has been increased from $90 to $120. And that is in addition to lawmakers’ annual salary of $42,106.
The decision to increase the per diem (Latin for “per day” or “for each day”) was made last month by the House Executive Committee, a bipartisan committee of five lawmakers.
“This is not an extraordinary increase,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, a King County Democrat on the Executive Committee. “This is to enable people who have to come here and live here during session, and spend a great deal of time here at a great expense to them, to offset the costs.”
Just about everyone, including state workers, have had to limp along financially over the past five years as wages have been stagnant while expenses have continued to climb. Only in the past few months has there been some evidence that the financial freeze is starting to thaw.
It’s unseemly lawmakers would take action for their own benefit.
In addition, the state government is not on solid financial footing. After years of trimming state programs and layoffs, the state is faced with a court order demanding more money be spent funding basic education.
Now, we realize the added $30 a day for the 98 House members is not much money in comparison to the state’s more than $30 billion annual budget.
It’s the principle. Leaders should be looking out for others, not themselves.
The Senate, wisely, has not bumped its per diem rate. And after senators see the public pummeling representatives receive for this ill-timed decision, it’s highly unlikely they will follow the House’s lead. (It would not be a surprise if the House per diem increase is repealed quickly.)
When asked, Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said he was not inclined to push for a higher per diem.
“I’m not willing to rush and spend any money right now on anything,” he said. “My personal opinion is we’re not out of this fiscal crisis yet, so I’m reluctant to increase any spending until we sort our way through this.”
Schoesler gets it.