EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

June 25, 2014

Editorial: Per diem perk pays lawmakers to get to work

Employers will routinely reimburse their employees for travel expenses incurred during the performance of their jobs. But the expense of actually getting to and from work -- the daily commute -- is the employees’ responsibility.

Unless, of course, one is a Massachusetts state legislator. Lawmakers are eligible to be paid just to commute to work at the Statehouse. The benefit cost state taxpayers $300,000 last year.

That’s not an enormous amount of money in a $36 billion state budget. But it’s the principle that lawmakers are paid just to get to work that is particularly galling.

State law says lawmakers can collect the reimbursement each day they go to the Statehouse on official business. The payment is based on the distance traveled, ranging from $10 per day for those in Greater Boston to $90 per day for those traveling from Western Massachusetts and Cape Cod.

Not all lawmakers request the per diem reimbursement, nor do lawmakers file for it every time they travel. Of the 200 legislators in the state House and Senate, 110 lawmakers accepted reimbursement for travel last year, our Statehouse reporter Christian Wade found.

“It’s hard to justify why lawmakers are still getting this perk when nobody else does,” Paul Craney, executive director of the nonpartisan Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance told Wade. “While the rest of the state is struggling to pay for the rising cost of gasoline, these guys are getting a free ride to the Statehouse.”

The top collector was state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, the majority leader and likely next Senate president. Rosenberg was paid $12,780 for travel in 2013.

Several state representatives from the Merrimack Valley accepted per diem payments in 2013. Among them are: House Republican Minority Leader Bradley Jones Jr., of North Reading, who collected $3,042 for 169 trips at $18 a day. Outgoing Democratic Rep. Michael Costello of Newburyport received $2,990 for 115 trips. Rep. Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat, received $2,470 for 95 trips to Boston. Rep. Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, was paid $1,950 for 195 days; Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, $1,846 for 71 days; and Rep. Marcos Devers, D-Lawrence, $1,196 for 46 days.

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