My commute back and forth to work today will cost me around $14.81. I'll travel a total of 96 miles and burn 3.4 gallons of gas worth about $12.41. My Fast Lane transponder will authorize the Commonwealth to deduct $2.40 from my checking account. I considered these costs when I accepted the job here at FOX 25. You may have worked out a similar equation when you took a job or opportunity that would involve a commute.
Beacon Hill lawmakers don't need to factor in travel costs because you're picking up the tab… and then some. My commute from Worcester would net a state representative or Senator a $36 taxpayer funded per diem. That's a profit of $21.19 when you don't factor in wear and tear on the vehicle.
Everyday a solon claims that he or she had business on Beacon Hill, they receive reimbursement for their commute. The amount paid varies based upon the number of days they travel to their office and the distance.
For instance, representatives and Senators from western Massachusetts and Nantucket receive the highest per diems: $90 to $100 per round trip. Conversely, those who represent districts inside 128 receive the lowest reimbursement. Sadly, only one quarter of lawmakers do not bill the taxpayers for their commute.
Let's put aside our rage over this long standing tax-payer funded perk so we can analyze the rankings of which pols collect the most. According to the Massachusetts State Treasurer's figures from 2011, four of the five top legislators in the amount claimed in per diem compensation are from either Nantucket or western Massachusetts. That makes sense, but number three on the list has the same commute as me and is paid $36 for each round trip.
Democrat John Binienda of Worcester collected $8,676 from taxpayers in 2011. In published reports, he claims that he drove to Beacon Hill for legislative business 241 days in 2011 and that he's proud of his attendance record. That's an incredible work schedule even for someone like Binienda who has a leadership position in the House.
There are 52 weeks in a year and 260 weekdays. Massachusetts recognizes eight official holidays. For the sake of argument, let's assume that Rep. Binienda only conducts business at the State House on weekdays. That means he traveled from Worcester to his Boston office for all but 11 non-holiday weekdays. In other words, Rep. Binienda was in Boston every day with only two weeks and a day off in 2011. Now that's what I call a hard worker!
There is no audit trail or formal procedure to determine the veracity of a lawmaker's per diem requests. They don't punch a clock or fill out a time sheet. The only real proof is whether or not they voted when in session. How often are they in session? That's very difficult to determine based upon the different types of sessions and a lot of other confusing legislative rules. However, it's safe to say we have a part time legislature. The conspiracy theorist in me believes the stories that some solons carpool and still request individual compensation. As taxpayers, we have to trust our legislators to be honest when they submit their per diem requests…the same way we trusted three successive House Speakers who are now convicted felons.