Republicans in the state Assembly are considering increasing the amount of money its members can write off as food and lodging expenses.
Representatives from both parties said the rationale behind raising the rates of daily, per diem expenses for the 99 Assembly members is the rising costs of lodging and food in Madison.
Legislators are currently eligible for $88 a day to pay for these expenses and $44 a day if they are Dane County representatives, according to the state’s Legislative Reference Bureau.
This per diem rate was adopted in 2001 and has remained constant since then. Legislators do not spend their entire per diem expenses, and the amount spent may vary based on the individual decisions of the legislators, their leadership role and their committee duties.
Assembly chief clerk office manager Laura Jones said Assembly members are limited to claiming 153 days per year for the days they come to the Capitol.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he opposes increasing the expenses right now in his chamber, as he said the Senate needs to do more important things like job creation and the budget.
“I would not support raising the per diem right now,” Fitzgerald said in a statement Wednesday. “I think the State Senate is more focused on making sure we pass a fiscally responsible budget and work on legislation that will bring real jobs to Wisconsin.”
Per diem expenses are given in addition to the legislators’ $49,943 annual salary, and the Assembly speaker receives $25 per month on top of that. For travel costs, legislators are also compensated for round trip travel to and from the Capitol.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, echoed Fitzgerald’s resistance to per diem expense increases, calling the proposal by incoming Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and others “totally hypocritical.”
“With all the cuts we’re asking everyone else to make, it doesn’t seem appropriate for Assembly members to spend more money,” Taylor said. “Republicans talk about how we’re in a dire financial state. There’s a lot of hypocrisy in the policies they’re proposing.”
In 2011, legislators received $862,493 in per diem expenses. Vos, Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, tied for the most per diem expenses in 2011 at $13,464 each.
Some members of the Assembly remain unsure whether they support adding money to the per diem expenses.
Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, said the current per diem rates are sufficient for some Assembly members, but he did not say whether they should increase.
“I can see why a proposal like this would be offered,” Jorgensen said. “It’s something you have to take a look and see if you have per diem on what it’s paying for and making sure it’s efficient. I know things have all gone up. The prices for hotel rooms and expenses to do this job have all risen in the last year. I believe it needs to be looked at.”
Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, is also on the fence about raising the per diem rates. He said although his costs have gone up, he is not sure whether this is a good time to do it.