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State lawmakers sought more than $1.1 million in spending last year | local government

By on March 15, 2022 0

Wisconsin state lawmakers claimed more than $1.16 million in daily expense reimbursements in 2021, marking a decrease of about 7% from claims claimed in 2019, the previous non-election year.

Senate lawmakers claimed more than $316,000 in expenses, while their Assembly colleagues claimed nearly $850,000, according to records from the offices of the chief clerk of both houses. Per diems, also known as “per diems,” cover expenses lawmakers accrue while in Madison on legislative business and are paid in addition to their annual salary of $55,141.

In the Senate, 16 of the 33 lawmakers in the chamber have claimed more than $10,000 in expenses. Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who is about 30 miles north of Madison in West Point, was the first recipient with $15,525 and 135 days on Capitol Hill.

“I’m usually in Madison four or five days a week, but I try to maintain a daily allowance of three, three and a half days on average,” Erpenbach said. “So there are days I’m in there where I just don’t take it.”

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Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, claimed second place in the Senate, with $14,087.50 spent over 245 days.

“I take my role as a public servant seriously, and part of that role is making myself accessible to my constituents and my colleagues,” Agard said in an email. “People in my district have told me they want a policy maker who works tirelessly on their behalf, and I take that to heart. I’m always ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work, whether that’s either on Capitol Hill or in the 16th Senate District.

Thirty-five of the 99 Assembly members claimed more than $10,000 in expenses. In that chamber, Republican Representative Calvin Callahan, who resides about 180 miles north of Madison in Tomahawk, received the most with $19,890 for 153 days.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, received $13,570 for 118 days, while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, received $7,803 for 73 days. The President of the Assembly receives a additional allowance of $25 per month.

State and Assembly lawmakers claimed more than $1.25 million in per diems in 2019, down 6% from payments claimed in 2017.

Approximately $555,000 in payments were claimed in 2020, down from nearly $800,000 collected in 2018. The decrease was due in part to the Capitol building being closed to the public in 2020 in response to the COVID pandemic -19. The Republican-led Legislature also did not meet for a floor session in an eight-month period that year.

Erpenbach said the amount of per diems last year likely underscores the return to more normal activities on Capitol Hill, including committee meetings. The Legislative Assembly also began the lengthy biennial state budget process last summer.

“Whether it’s the Farm Bureau era, the Tavern League, whatever, there weren’t many of those in 2020,” Erpenbach said. “There were a lot more last year.”

In the Assembly, legislators can collect $76.50 per day for non-overnight stays and $153 for overnight stays. The per diem cap is $115 for Senate legislators who live outside of Dane County and $57.50 for those who live in the county.

Per diems cover room, board, and meals on days that legislators are in Madison on legislative business, excluding Saturdays and Sundays, unless a special session or committee meeting is called. Lawmakers may also be reimbursed for actual expenses incurred while attending a committee meeting outside of Madison.

Each senator is required to sign an affidavit at the start of the legislative session stating the amount they will receive per day to cover room, board and meals.

The distance between a senator’s home and the Capitol doesn’t count for these allowances, specifically, but lawmakers receive a travel allowance of 51 cents per mile for one round trip per week.