Total expenses still below 2020
By Guy Page
A $75/day home expense benefit created for the 2021 ‘Zoom’ Vermont Legislature has resulted in $653,184 of claims through May 4, state officials say.
“Total 2021 reimbursements YTD (year-to-date) has been $693,028.35; of that $653,184 is for the remote per diem,” Assistant Director of Statewide Reporting office in the Dept. of Finance & Management Joe Harris told Vermont Daily this week. “For context, total reimbursements for the same period in 2020 was $1,159,121.73.”
When the Legislature meets in person, lawmakers receive travel, meals, and (when necessary) lodging reimbursement. That’s why total reimbursements were higher in 2020, when the Legislature met in person for more than two months. The $75 per diem at-home expense was reportedly begun at the request of House Speaker Jill Krowinski. Lawmakers meeting virtually from their homes incur added expenses such as food, heat, electricity, and office expenses. For example, one lawmaker found she needed a new office chair due to sitting for long hours at home. The $75 per diem is a direct payment, not a reimbursement of itemized expenses.
The $75/day is limited to the four days a week in which the Legislature is in session. The Legislature is likely to adjourn by mid-May. However, there has been discussion about returning for a week or two for a veto session (if needed) this summer, and then convening again in the fall if legislation is needed to spend another windfall of federal dollars.
The at-home per-diem will be joined by two and possibly three new revenue streams for Vermont’s part-time Legislature in the next two years.
Pay hike July 1 – at present lawmakers earn $743/week, plus expenses. Beginning July 1 of this year, lawmakers’ earnings will rise to keep pace with the annual pay increase for other constitutional officers, such as governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, according to a law passed under Zoom conditions last year. The roll call shows a fairly strict “party line” 82-61 vote, in which all Republicans voted no. They were joined by a handful of Democrats and independents. Most of the Democrats and Progressives voted yes.
Reimbursement of campaign living expenses – according to Act 8, which as H10 passed with little discussion and was signed into law April 13 by Gov. Phil Scott, lawmakers may receive living expenses (included, but not explicitly limited to, childcare) from their campaign funds during a political campaign. The law is in effect now. Campaign season usually begins the summer of an election year, which is next year.
Receiving a campaign salary – H363, allowing candidates to draw salaries from a campaign fund during campaign season, was introduced in February by Rep. Mary Howard (D-Rutland). It is currently in the House Government Operations Committee. No action has yet been taken. Its prospects for passage are uncertain.
A February 19 Vermont Daily report on at-home per diem claims – at that time, totaling $218,000 – prompted several responses from concerned taxpayers, such as this online comment: “these folks will take taxpayer money until the proverbial Vermont cows come home. So, I’m curious to know how long voters will tolerate this graft given the performance and outcomes they receive from these so-called ‘representatives’. If it were up to me, I’d say: ‘You’re Fired’.
The Feb. 19 report also drew this response from a Republican legislator:
“I understand the desire to share relevant info but when you write about legislative pay and people get angry – they don’t seem to understand that it’s unfortunately become a full time job and it’s less than 13k/year. The reason the reimbursements were set high to begin with was to offset how little the pay is.
“Doing this remotely isn’t ideal but even without commuting it still keeps many of us from our regular jobs. What some people would love to see is us working for free but they wouldn’t work for free.
“The Dems want even more, that may be true, but even with full reimbursement throughout the session it is still 26k for someone like me for the entire year. I’ve not worked less than 25/30 hours on legislative work since I took office. Many put even more time in. I limit my time to necessary learning and constituent related work which is important.
“The point being is that no one is getting rich doing this and those of us with regular jobs are losing significant income to do this. It’s not right to vilify on that front. I’d be on your side if they were asking for ridiculous sums but they aren’t. There are members on food stamps even.”
Categories: State Government