Members Hope Per Diem Change Cools Corbett’s Fire for Reform

A battle between state lawmakers and Governor Corbett over legislative perqs and other benefits could influence the movement through the General Assembly of major legislative initiatives like tort reform and privatization of the liquor system, some members say.

“If we get too bogged down on the fight over the reforms, we won’t be able to move key items forward,” one Republican House member said.

Corbett campaigned on the need for the legislative reforms. He reiterated his campaign pledge in his swearing in speech on Tuesday, January 18.

“It will take courage to pursue government and legislative reform,” Corbett said. “Pennsylvania taxpayers deserve a government that will not ask more of its citizens until it asks more of itself.”

But House members hope that some legislative reforms begun by members over two years ago involving car leases, per diems and other perqs, and the promise of additional reforms, will encourage the new governor to ease the pressure.

“There’s really no point on harping about the car leases,” said a House official. “This is the last session we’re going to allow them anyway.”

Of the 203 House members, 60 lease cars through a fleet maintained by the Department of General Services. Others own their cars and receive mileage reimbursements. The number of leases is down from past years when members received up to $650 a month to lease a car through a private dealer.

In another development, House members will be required to attest to overnight stays on official business before receiving a per diem for lodging. Under the old rules, members received a lump sum per diem when they requested it without verification of the stay.

“You’re always going to get a few members who take advantage of the system by coming to Harrisburg on Monday and taking a per diem for a Sunday night stay,” one House official said. “But in my estimate that was pretty rare. Under this change, they’ll have to indicate that they actually stayed.”

Members hope that attesting to the stays with the promise of further reforms will satisfy Corbett who wants to initiate a system where all expenses are accountable. House officials say they’re already moving in that direction.

“Members can choose to make all their expenses accountable and more are going to it because they don’t want anyone questioning them on what they’re doing with public money,” the House official said.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver County, introduced legislation that would establish a "PennWATCH" website that would make all state spending public.