ST. PAUL (WCCO) — New numbers from the Minnesota legislature show state lawmakers paid themselves more than a $1 million last year in per diem payments — out of the public eye.
Minnesota lawmakers earn $31,140 a year, but can also apply for per diem payments, which are over and above their salaries and separate from the checks for housing and travel.
Per diems used to be for food money, but now it’s for any incidental expense — no receipts required.
Members of the House receive $66 a day. In the Senate, it’s $86 seven days a week during a legislative session, even on days and weekends when they are not physically at the Capitol.
Now, for the first time in many years, the top 10 House per diem-takers are all in the Republican party. Leading the pack is Education Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo from Northfield. He received $11,418 in per diem during 2012.
The top 10 per diems in the Senate went to a mix of Democrats and Republicans. No.1 is the Majority Leader, David Senjem. The Republican Senator from Rochester got per diem totaling $11,438.
Minnesota lawmakers have not had a raise in more than a decade and their middle-of-the-pack salaries rank above Iowa and the Dakotas, but below Wisconsin.
In Minnesota, however, per diem is a kind of back door pay hike. Also, because most of it is added to their pensions, there’s an incentive to get as much as possible.
Of the 201 members of the Minnesota Legislature, only three declined to take per diem in 2012. They are Republican Sen. Roger Chamberlain, from Lino Lakes. Democratic Representatives Steve Simon of St. Louis Park and Tina Liebling of Rochester.
Unlike almost every other public record, you cannot find per diem payments online at the Minnesota Legislature. You have to contact the House or Senate to get them.
Here are some of the sources we used for Reality Check:
Per Diems for the House, Senate
Minnesota Legislature FAQs
State Elected Officials’ Compensation
2011 NCSL Legislator Compensation Table