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Reality Check: Minnesota Lawmakers’ Per Diem

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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ST. PAUL (WCCO) – Minnesota lawmakers earn about $30,000 a year, and they haven’t had a pay hike since 1989. However, they’re able to raise their own salaries by taking daily expense payments called “per diem,” which is a kind of back-door pay hike out of public view.

To be clear, it’s a part-time job, the work is demanding and the hours are long, but lawmakers regularly boost their regular paycheck by 30 percent or more every year.

It’s TRUE.

State Representatives are entitled to $66 every day in per diem payments, and State Senators $86.

There are no receipts, no questions and they can receive per diems seven days a week during session — even when they are not at the Capitol.

Last year, DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk was at the top of the per diem list with $15,660.

In the House, it was GOP Representative Larry Howes. He got $12,834.

That’s NOT THE WHOLE STORY.

Per Diem payments were originally meant to be for daily meals and expenses.

Now, in addition to per diem payments, lawmakers also get other direct payments and reimbursements for Twin Cities apartments, mileage, computers, telephones and travel.

Also, the more per diem lawmakers get during the session, the bigger their pension. So, there is an incentive to get more.

Here’s what you NEED TO KNOW

Last year, the House and Senate spent more than $2 million ($2,058,676) on per diem.

That’s an average of $10,243 extra dollars for every lawmaker.

Per diem payments to lawmakers are so sensitive that for the first time, the Minnesota House won’t let members take it during this unusually long vacation break.

But the Senate will.

As we said, the Minnesota House won’t allow per diem during this unusually long, 10 day spring break.

Only one Senator, Democrat Tony Lourey, is refusing to take per diem this week.

Some lawmakers accepted no per diem in 2011, and they include:
Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes)
Rep. Tina Leibling (DFL-Rochester)
Rep. Steve Simon, (DFL-St. Louis Park)

Others accept reduced per diem and expenses.

The Minnesota House and Senate don’t provide per diem and expense information online, so we’ve collected it for you: House | Senate

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