State Legislators' per Diem Is Too Paltry, Some Argue
Virginia Young Post-Dispatch Jefferson City Bureau, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
One legislator sleeps in his office and showers at the Y. Others share cheap apartments with four or five colleagues. Still others rely on discounted rates at no-frills hotels.
Those are some of the ways that legislators live on $35 a day - a per diem that was last increased 19 years ago. Legislators and former legislators relayed those accounts Thursday to the Missouri Citizens Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials.
The commission, authorized by state voters in November 1994, will set s alaries for statewide elected officials, judges and state legislators. The commission also will set legislators' expense allowances, known as per diems. While presenting evidence that the per diem is too low, the Legislature's representatives did not ask for a general pay raise. In fact, one leader - Senate Minority Leader Franc Flotron, R-Chesterfield - went in the opposite direction. "I would discourage you from bumping our salary or making a significant change in it," Flotron said. A big raise would be the first step toward a full-time Legislature, Flotron said. Now, legislators are paid $25,286 a year, and the job is considered part time. The Legislature is in session 3 1/2 days a week from January to mid-May. Since most legislators hold other jobs, they "still have one foot in the real world," Flotron said. Information compiled by the House shows that Missouri's per diem ranks 15th out of 18 states with three- to five-month sessions. The high is Alaska, which pays legislators $151 a day for expenses. Missouri's per diem is tied with Oklahoma as the lowest of the 36 states paying per diems, according to data compiled by the Senate. Lodging takes up most of the money, said Senate President Pro Tem James Mathewson, D-Sedalia. "I stay at the Super 8 (Motel) for $33. …