Rusche on Idaho per diem mess: 'What I thought was clear obviously is not'

The 2012 Legislature will likely address lawmakers' per diem expenses, to determine who should receive a $49 payment, or a larger $122 payment, House Minority Leader John Rusche said today.

In a blog posted at the Idaho Democratic Party website, the Lewiston lawmaker said, "To be clear up front, I do get a per diem payment of $122 per day during the legislative session to offset the cost of maintaining a second residence. ...

"I think that the rules are fairy clear — those from over 50 miles away get a higher per diem but it is not income or added into pension amounts. Those from inside 50 miles get the lower ($49) amount, but it is treated, by IRS rules, as income and is taxed. I think commuting costs should be considered covered by the per diem.

"What I thought was clear obviously is not. We will be addressing this during the session I am sure."

The per diem issue generated statewide controversy after the Associated Press wrote about two Canyon County senators, Curt McKenzie of Nampa and John McGee of Caldwell, who received the higher payments. McKenzie spent nights sleeping on a couch in his Boise law office. McGee spent some nights sleeping at his parents' Boise home.

More reading:

• Here is a link to Rusche's full newsletter.

• Here's a link to a guest opinion from McKenzie.

• Here is a link to my blog advocating getting rid of the per-diem plan.

Get Twitter updates on my blog and column and Statesman editorials. Become a follower. You can also get updates on Facebook's Idaho Statesman Opinion Page.

not by a mile

There is a special rule for legislators. Of course!

A better link to the applicable rule:
http://www.irs.gov/irb/2010-17_IRB/ar12.html

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My Mapquest says Caldwell (Mercy Medical Center) is less than 50 miles to the State Capitol. It is about 30 miles. So wherever the actual residence is, I doubt it's over 50... payback is a bummer!

The rules appear crystal clear to me.

But then I'm not a politician and not privvy to their thought process.

fairy clear?

We're not talking about Larry Craig, are we?

Was that a hate crime....

or just freedom of speech?

How about a system where they pay their

own bills and then get reimbursed for actual expenses? Using 30 days as an average, that's $3660 per month! I could maintain a very nice place for that amount each month.

Keep the current system

Do we really want our legislators taking out pay day loans until they get re-imbursed for itemized expenses?

Do we really want Dan Popkey digging into their expense accounts (instead of legislation) and informing us which legislators live on the cheap while others live lavishly, which ones eat arugula verses a big Mac & fries?

The voucherless, flat-rate per diem is the most equitable system.

Legislative Pay

Legislators are paid over $16,000 per year for their part time work. Seems to me that it's not asking too terribly much of them to put some of that part time toward filling out an expense report to make sure that only proper and necessary expenses are reimbursed.

What's happening now is, as Kevin Richert properly put it, a gravy train. A million bucks. Nice.

So,

"some nights sleeping at his parents home," and "spent nights sleeping on a couch in his Boise law office," are well recorded i'm sure. Neither of these two legislators returned home, the whole 20 or 26 miles, at all, during the legislature session?
This is total bulls**t and everyone knows it.
The per diem was set up for the legislators that do live to far from their homes to travel back and forth.
Once again, the sleaze bag scammers have taken advantage of the Idaho taxpayers.

Per Diem In The Corporate World

is paid according to company policy and is not added to income for pension / retirement purposes. The recipient is then responsible for filing the proper business expense form & reporting reimbursement above expenses or visa versa to the best of my knowledge. Why do politicians need to reinvent the wheel if not to find a way to around it?

Don't they get it? We don't trust them anymore. Trust is a thing easily given & lost, but once lost is very hard to get back. It will be a long time before they gain our trust back. They're worse than 5 year olds.

per diem?

if they live in Nampa or Caldwell, they should receive nothing, people drive that everyday and don't receive extra for their travel, yes I guess we don't trust them, and why should we, they always seem to have their hand in the cookie jar and hope no one gets wind of it............

Who should we trust?

Idaho Stateman editorial on 10/4/2011:

"The per diem is taxable income, boosting the pension payments lawmakers will receive when they retire. The $122 per day is a gift that keeps on giving."

State Rep. John Rusche on 10/17/2011:

"I think that the rules are fairly clear — those from over 50 miles away get a higher per diem but it is not income or added into pension amounts."

I assume Rusche has looked at the rules and knows what he's talking about, but then I have been under the assumption that K.R. looked at the rules also before he wrote that editorial. Let's not re-write the rules if the Statesman is responsible for misleading the public.

As for McKenzie and McGee, someone needs to verify the mileage from their homes to the Capitol building to see if they legally qualify for the higher per diem. If not, make them pay the money back and move on. Let's not be petty rule makers and enforcers like the NCAA.

Per Diem

In conjunction with your previous comment and this one, the problem is when they receive a flat rate per diem and then are provided meals by lobbyists, organizations, etc and those meals are not deducted from the per diem which they should be. So in essence they are being paid for a meal provided by someone else. And let me tell you this happens a lot during the legislative session and other times as well. The current system is abused because the paperwork for such has been short changed by staff.

Yes, I'm aware that

Yes, I'm aware that sometimes lobbyists or organizations pick up the meal tab for legislators, but I do not believe it happens to the degree you apparently believe it does, and I do not believe the savings you anticipate would be sufficient to offset hiring additional staff to handle the bookkeeping (think permanent state employees paid a salary + benefits). However, your comment causes me to think it isn't about controlling expenses but controlling people. If the legislators used the per diem to pay for every crumb of bread they eat while in Boise, would that make you happy, or would you not want to control what brand of bread and how many slices they could have each day?

What about the portion of the per diem they spend on housing? Do you want to control that too? One person suggested a group home solution. Just what we need, a state-owned apartment building that sits empty 9 months out of the year! Should we put a cafeteria in it and require all the legislators to eat together at a precise time?

Penny wise and dollar foolish comes to mind.

We need to completely change the system.

In the past few days the paper has been reporting on the irresponsible behavior of some of our legislators and party leaders. Obviously the per diem system is being abused. So we scrap it.

There are many recently constructed apartment complexes in the Boise area. Why not rent a block of units for legislators to use? They can even share apartments! The average 4 bdrm unit in a reasonably appointed complex has GOT to be less than $2,000 a month. Put 4 legislators in each unit and BAM, 500 a month per person instead of the current average of $2,565. The State saves MY money and a suffering area of the local economy gets a shot in the arm! Nah, they'll never go for it.

But that's just MY opinion, I could be wrong.

You could be wrong?

Is the owner of said apartment complexes you want to tie up for three months, likely to find renters willing to move out in mid-December? What makes you think 4-bedroom units are common? Do you think all the bedrooms are of equal size and have a private bathroom? What do you plan to do about furnishing these apartments? Where will you store the furniture when the legislators leave town? Or do you envision the state renting these apartments on an annual basis so they can sit empty the rest of the year? Either way the state would need to create an entire new agency - legislature housing services - to make this idea work. Very bad idea!

You got a better idea?

Lets hear it.

Keep the current system

I have already stated twice now that I support keeping the current system. If necessary re-write and widely publish the rules regarding eligibility to clear up the apparent confusion among legislators themselves as to who is eligible to receive the $122 per diem vs. the $49 per diem. If some legislators have been receiving the larger per diem when they should not have, require them to pay the money back, but don't throw out an equitable and workable system to extract revenge from two bad actors.

Another option is to lobby the Citizens Legislative Compensation Committee (a Constitutional body) to lower the per diem rate if you believe our legislators are living too well at taxpayers' expense. They looked into that last December and decided to make no changes in the per diem rate, but they could be persuaded to reconsider that decision and clarify the rules related to it.

Some of you are obviously concerned about the legislators not having to account for how they spend the per diem, that by cutting corners on rent, they might be pocketing the savings, or God forbid they get a free meal now and then. The solutions proposed, however, would likely cost taxpayers more money, and I see no way to make a voucher system as equitable and flexible as the current system is. You would still need to impose a cap on the maximum amount that would be reimbursible, but beyond this it becomes very subjective when you start delving into the particulars and try to impose limits on rent, utilities, food, etc. Contrary to what some of you think, our legislators are neither children nor college students, and even most college students have more discretionary spending power than you are willing to give our legislators.

Some people have suggested that legislators should be treated the same as other state employees or employees in the private sector, but that's an apples and oranges comparison. What other state employees are required to annually set up housekeeping in another city for 90 days or more?

Here's another question for anyone to answer that might shed some light on this controversy: How often do our legislators get paid both salary and per diem? Unless I'm mistaken, the per diem is not a cash advance they receive upon their arrival in Boise so they can go out and look for suitable lodging arrangements.

Mansion

And while we're at it, let's throw in the governor's mansion. It is that, and any elected governor has the right to live there or not....but not one dang cent if they choose not to. This whole legislative perc thing ticks me off, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the gall that Otter showed in taking 150 thousand of our money to live at home in Star. Come on Idaho voters, we must do better. How can people who claim the high moral ground vote to cut funding for the truly needy and schools but see no wrong in deviously padding their incomes at taxpayer expense?

repubs....if you were a dem....youd be

ok....

spend like a dem....