As mentioned in my earlier blog post, our Tuesday editorial will focus on per diem payments to Idaho legislators — and the $122 per day collected by Canyon County legislators who stay in Boise during the session.
An Associated Press story last week focused on state Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, who sleeps on a couch in his law office during the session, and Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, who spends some nights sleeping in his parents' home in Boise. The lawmakers still received the $122 per diem, designed to offset the costs of renting an apartment or motel room during the session.
In a guest opinion that we'll also publish Tuesday, McKenzie calls the AP story a piece of "sensationalist journalism."
"The suggestion that any of us serve in order to get a little extra per diem just doesn’t hold water," McKenzie wrote.
Here, in full, is McKenzie's guest opinion:
A reporter once confided to me that controversy sells newspapers. Reporters can create controversy — or the appearance of it — by reporting half the story or taking details out of context. Conservative voices such as Rush Limbaugh report on the national media bias each day, but here are examples of sensationalist journalism closer to home.
Last week, I was mentioned in a story about per diem received by Idaho legislators. Per diem is a component of legislators’ compensation, so it is important for Idahoans to know about it. An independent citizen commission established a per diem for Idaho legislators. Legislators who stay in Boise during the session receive $122, while those who live within 50 miles of Boise but do not stay in Boise during the session receive $49. The article that mentioned me didn’t report the whole story: It identified only two legislators, but other legislators both within and outside the 50-mile radius have rightfully taken the per diem and stayed at a second home, with family, or at other accommodations that cost less than the per diem amount. The per diem is a set amount, not a reimbursement, so it would be fair to say that the commission never intended the per diem to exactly match expenses.
Citizens do not serve in the Idaho Legislature to become wealthy. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Idaho legislators received a salary of $16,600 in 2010, which was lower than all by 13 states. To put that in context, Parade magazine’s annual salary comparison has your legislators’ compensation just below a library assistant from Monticello, Ga. ($17,000) and a barista from Denver ($18,000). (Source: Parade magazine.)
The point is not that Idaho legislators make too little. It is a privilege and honor to serve and the state has been very wise to keep a part-time citizen Legislature. But the suggestion that any of us serve in order to get a little extra per diem just doesn’t hold water.