Raleigh, N.C. — Taxpayers would pay more to reimburse lawmakers for the time they spend traveling for legislative business and the time they spend in Raleigh under a proposal approved for introduction by the General Assembly's Program Evaluation Committee.
Monday's vote clears the way for Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, to introduce a bill that would more than double the amount per mile – from 26 cents to 54 cents – lawmakers are paid to travel from their home districts to Raleigh, as well as for authorized travel on legislative business.
The daily lump-sum payment that covers food and lodging costs, known as a per diem, would also rise, from $104 per day to $163 per day, under Hartsell's proposal.
"These reimbursements are supposed to be tied to the actual costs of serving," Hartsell said Monday.
But those cost allowances were last reset in 1994, when gas and lodging costs were cheaper. The result is that lawmakers take a financial hit to serve.
Increasing those reimbursements would cost the state about $1.4 million a year, according to a draft bill Hartsell circulated to the committee.
Raising the amount of money lawmakers receive is always a touchy subject. Proposals to raise lawmaker's base pay – $13,591 a year – have been met with resistance in the past and have been used in political campaigns to tar their authors. Hartsell says his effort should be less controversial.
"We're talking about how much money it truly costs to serve," he said.
Between what is now a $104 per daily allowance, a monthly expense allotment and mileage reimbursements, lawmakers on average take home somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 in a typical year, and more than half of that is expenses.
Whatever lawmakers do, Hartsell said that the legislature wouldn't raise its reimbursement rates for the current session. Rather, he said, if legislators do take up his bill, they would likely delay its implementation until next summer.
During Monday's committee hearing, Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, asked why the various reimbursement rates couldn't be allowed to float along with federal standards. Doing so, he said, would allow future legislatures to avoid complicating the political thicket that comes along with increasing their reimbursements.
Hartsell said the state constitution does not allow the state to take action by reference to actions by a government outside of the state.
However the bill is structured, it may not go anywhere this year. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said he would want to see an independent commission look over the matter before the General Assembly acts.
"I don't think that's something we would pass this session," Moore said.