McKenzie responds to per diem article: Lawmakers don't serve 'to become wealthy'

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.

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OK McKenzie,

your turn to tell the other half of the story.
You know, taking the per diem AND the mileage also. Blame it on a clerical error, staff member or secretary all you want, but you are the one responsible. Just like McGee, your are a slimeball that needs to go.

McKenzie's right about one thing

We should be getting this data about all the legislators, not just the Caldwell ones.


Hey Mr McBllah Blah Blah,

The so called independent panel that feathered your nest was appointed by the you and the other state legislators.

What about the benefit to your state pension, or didn't you know about that just like you now claim you didn't know you were also getting the local travel expenses payment.

BTW, look around, many legislators have become very well off during and after serving, what with cushy pensions and medical care provided.

Comparing your pay to an assistant librarian is another false step. The librarian works full time 12 months a year, and gets a skimpy, if any medical benefit, while you work full time (so you claim while hanging out at your legal office) for only 3 months and get full state medical benefits.

Saluting Mr Limbaugh is another classy move which reflects the depth of your day to day thiinking.


BRR-the panel you refer to is the Citizen's Committe on Legislative Compensation. It was established by the voters in 1976 as a Constitutional amendment. There are six members- three appointed by the governor, and three by the Supreme Court. The legislators have NO say in who is appointed! The Committee meets every two years, in even numbered years, to establish the rates of compensation and expenses, and submits them to the legislature. The legislature has 25 days after the start of the session to do one of the following:
1) Take no action, allowing the Committee's decisions to take effect.
2) Reject or reduce the rates submitted- that has to be done by a House and Senate Concurrent Resolution. Should the rates be rejected, the previously established rates shall be in effect for two more years.

At the start of the 2009 session, the new,proposed rates WERE rejected. The rates reverted to the 2006 levels. The 2010 Commission kept the rates for salary and per diem and cut the rates for constituent services.

I don't agree with what McKenzie and McGee did, but they had no part in appointing anybody to the Compensation Committee.

I stand corrected

Thanks for the real deal information.


Why didn't he compare his legislative salary and benefits to any position here in Idaho?

"It is a privilege and honor to serve..."

Yes it is Mr. McKenzie. The folks that plow the snow, guard the inmates, fight the forest fires, keep our water drinkable and other noble professions all have the same ideals as you. However you and your party bosses refer to them as thugs, parasites and other demeaning labels. How does it feel to have your ideals questioned?

Hey Curt

Did anybody else notice that the total of his salary and extras for 90 days work is pretty close to the starting salary for a new teacher? Maybe you should consider giving them a per diem...or putting the legislature on computers so they can stay home and think up ignorant crap to vote on. That might help keep them away from them dang lobbyists, too.

Or maybe he could adopt the teacher pay system.....

performance doesn't matter -- years on the job is the only thing that determines salary.

McKenzie attempting to dodge real issue

He tries to imply the story was about Idaho legislators serve to get rich by getting a little extra per diem. Not once did last week's article mention anything about why legislators serve.

The story was simply a report about legislators with low morals gaming the system.


Where do you get the nerve to pretend you are the victim?

I can't believe or fathom these people actually make our laws.

The big question are

The big question are McKenzie & McGee and all the other Idaho legislators who pocket this public tax dollar allowance for personal use outside of the intended official use be considered tax cheats....?

Have McKenzie and McGee declared that additional income benefit on their tax returns with a total dollar figure?

This Journalist should follow up and check to verify if these Idaho legislators file receipt of the benefit on their income tax return.

The IRS treats lodging as a taxable fringe benefit unless it is offered on the employer's business premises.These Idaho legislative members might be avoiding pay taxes on the fair market value of their lodging.

Fair market value??

The per diem allowance is treated as taxable income, meaning the state must report the payments to the IRS and the Idaho Tax Commission.

What does "fair market value" for lodging have to do with this?

Tax Cheats?

What? Tax cheats (lawbreakers) in the Idaho legislature? They learned from the best in their party--Phil Hart!

I think the best in the business is....

Timothy Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury.