Senators Raise Their Daily Allowance by $29
Thursday, January 17, 2008
RICHMOND, Jan. 16 -- At a time of layoffs and salary freezes throughout state government, Democratic Senate leaders have pushed through a $29 increase in the daily allowance given to senators and some of their staff members during the legislative session.
Leaders of the Republican-controlled House said they are not going to follow the Senate's lead because of the budget situation and concerns that an increase could be used against them in a future campaign.
Under the rules approved last week by Senate leaders, senators who live outside Richmond will receive a $169 housing and food subsidy every day that the legislature is in session, including weekends, in addition to their $18,000 annual salary. The increase is effective for the current 60-day legislative session, which began last week.
Last year, when Republicans controlled the Senate, senators received a $140 per diem allowance. Legislative assistants who move to Richmond during the session are also eligible for the money, which is tax free if used for housing.
"All the hotel costs went up, and this was my decision," said Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). "A lot of these young [assistants] can barely make ends meet."
The Senate per diems, which cost taxpayers $773,000 a year, correspond to Internal Revenue Service guidelines for temporary housing costs in Richmond. Under Virginia law, delegates' and senators' daily allowances cannot exceed IRS guidelines, but they can be less.
GOP House leaders have decided to keep delegates' per diem at last year's rate, $135. Delegates are paid $17,640 a year.
"It's going to be tough on our members, but our philosophy is, it is tough to ask groups to take cuts in their budgets and then turn around and do a per diem increase," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem). He said that it would cost $360,000 to raise the House allowance to $169.
Because of the slumping housing market, there is a $300 million shortfall in this year's budget. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has ordered an across-the-board 5 percent cut in many agency budgets, which has resulted in a few dozen layoffs. He is also not giving teachers and state employees a raise this year.
On Tuesday, state Finance Secretary Jody M. Wagner told lawmakers that revenue continues to lag behind projections, which has prompted Kaine to suggest that he might have to make additional cuts.
The House's decision to forgo the per diem increase is about more than budget woes.
During last fall's campaign, House Democrats targeted several incumbents by sending out mailers and running TV advertisements that criticized them for supporting a pay raise for legislators. "Danny Marshall opposed increasing the minimum wage while voting to increase his own salary," said one mailer aimed at Del. Daniel W. Marshall III (R-Danville).