State lawmakers alone raised over $ 1 million in non-taxable daily rates, excluding receipts for meals and lodging, when lawmakers are away on business.
HARRISBURG, PA. – During a year when many Pennsylvanians were forced to cut costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers raised and spent millions of dollars in tax dollars on gasoline, government issued cars, and perks known as daily rates.
Daily rates resulting from the Latin phrase “every day” are payments that the legislature can receive at the beginning of the legislative year. They are largely tax-free and are intended to be used for meals and lodging when state officials and senators are doing business.
However, there is no way to prove that they are being used properly as daily rates do not require supporting documents.
Legislative spending records, received by FOX43 as part of multiple inquiries, show that Pennsylvania lawmakers billed taxpayers $ 1,041,121.68 per day throughout 2020 alone. The State House Democrats spent the most on daily rates and were among the top five collectors.
- State Representative Mark Longietti (D-Mercer) – $ 24,115
- State Representative Christopher Sainato (D-Lawrence) – $ 24,073
- State Representative Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia) – $ 21,604
- State Representative William Kortz (D-Allegheny) – $ 19,957
- State Representative Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks) – $ 18,901
Senator Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) was the Senate’s highest collector, ranking 6th on the daily rate list for $ 16,157.
“The problem with daily rates is three-fold,” said government activist Eric Epstein. “It’s not accountable. It’s tax-free. And there is no oversight.”
In addition to their daily collections, Longietti and Sainato raised $ 12,012 and $ 13,886 in fuel consumption, respectively, during the year. Both live in neighboring counties along the Ohio border and must travel among the most distant to get to Harrisburg. However, when the State House passed rules that would allow lawmakers to vote remotely during the pandemic, Longietti and Sainato still chose to come to Harrisburg.
Sainato, as the Democratic chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, says a remote meeting was never considered.
“I don’t vote remotely. I haven’t missed a meeting day in 26 years. It’s our responsibility to be here,” said Sainato. “I think we should be here. If the frontline workers can come to work, so should the legislature.”
Longietti declined to comment. FOX43 approached him in his Harrisburg Capitol office and, when asked for his thoughts on the expenses, said, “I would prefer not to.”
Pennsylvania lawmakers get $ 178 to $ 200 a day depending on where they are in the Commonwealth. It is among the highest rates in the country. Fuel usage is reimbursed at $ 0.57 / mile. Pennsylvania lawmakers earn a starting salary of $ 90,335, the third highest in the nation after New York and California.
There are also 42 lawmakers taking a government-leased vehicle that got taxpayers $ 285,941.18 in 2020. The House Republicans have rules that their members can’t take in a government-issued car.
“They can buy a house or rent a car at the level they are making so much money,” said Nathan Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation state monitoring group. “You don’t need to do this every day without showing receipts.”