By Pat Kessler

By Pat Kessler, WCCO-TV

ST. PAUL (WCCO) — One thing you can’t find on any Minnesota state website? How much your Minnesota lawmaker takes every year in “per diem” payments. (See the full lists below.)

Minnesota lawmakers earn $31,141 a year, and they haven’t had a pay hike in more than a decade.

In fact, Minnesota taxpayers kicked in $1.74 million last year for per diem, which, for some lawmakers, is a kind of “back-door” pay hike, adding as much as 40 percent to their salaries.

It’s TRUE.

In addition to the state legislative salary of $31,140, lawmakers are compensated for yearround travel and lodging.

And they are entitled to additional daily expense payments for things like meals: Up to $96 a day in the Senate and $77 in the House.

Lawmakers are not required to provide receipts, and can request per diem seven days a week during the legislative session, even when they are not here.

Here’s what you NEED TO KNOW:

In 2010, the top per diem taker was former Sen. Mee Moua, D-St. Paul, who made news last year for her family’s financial problems.

Moua received $17,184 in daily expense payments, on top of her $31,141 legislative pay.

In the House, St. Paul DFL Rep. Alice Hausman received the most per diem in 2010 at $14,332.

That’s NOT THE WHOLE STORY.

Minority Republicans complained for years about excessive per diem payments. Now that they’re in control, Senate leaders imposed a 10 percent per diem cut this week, from $96 to $86.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Amy Koch said reaction has been mixed.

“It’s funny. It should be no surprise but it still seems to be,” said Koch. “We ran on smaller, leaner, more efficient government and we started with us.”

Last year, every member of the Senate took per diem. In the House, all but one: Democrat Steve Simon, of St. Louis Park, has never accepted it.

For many years we’ve asked him why. This year, like all the other years, he won’t comment.

That’s Reality Check.

WEB EXTRA: 2010 Per Diems (Senate, House)

WCCO-TV’s Pat Kessler Reports

Comments (31)
  1. Mr T says:

    I don’t know much about Steve Simon, but I like him already.

    1. Rich says:

      I second that. I like Steve Simon.

    2. Todd says:

      he sounds like a man of integrity.

      1. Anthony Tanner says:

        Seriously, this guy lives in the suburbs, and he takes NO per diem. And Alice Hausman, who lives in Minneapolis, much closer to the capitol, takes $14,000. And don’t even get me started on Mee Moua, who lives next to the capitol. I’m sure Simon’s colleagues hate him for showing integrity and not joining in with this snort-snort pig fest at the public trough.

  2. John says:

    A democrat from Edina that has NEVER taken a per diem?
    Fine. I’ll bite.
    Just exactly how big was the the “silver spoon” ?

  3. S P Nelson says:

    Great, now let’s break down how much per diem Democrats vs. Republicans spent. Who spends money more wisely?

  4. BBinTonka says:

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Can I ask youall this question – your employer allows you a per diem. Are you going to say no, I’ll let you keep it?
    just asking is all. 😉
    Kuddos to Steve BTW – I also like him already too.

  5. MarkP says:

    Like all who don’t care to answer — honestly that is – of course I’d be all over it to the extent I could. There – honest answer at ya !
    Hmmmm – no a single reply makes me wonder.

  6. mark from mntaxwaste.com says:

    Pat, For the first time I can say great story. It was not one sided for once, and you stuck to the facts. mark@mntaxwaste.com

  7. Maria L says:

    How many hours a day and what type of time do these folks actually put in – if one actually knows here. One one hand I think they maybe comp’d well for what they do and then again they may be comp’d little on a time basis. I have no clue.

  8. Drew says:

    This is crazy! The per diem for my company when you travel to Mpls is $45 for meals. The top spender is from St. Paul? Go home for lunch and save the taxpayer some money, please. Maybe any senate/house member who lives in the metro area shouldn’t get a daily per diem for meals since they live in the area, just those outside of a specific mile radius should be eligidble? People who live in the metro area can go home and/or should already be used to the cost of meals. Just a little thought and some venting! 🙂

  9. MN Resident says:

    Lawmakers should NOT get per diem payments. We have to budget all our expenses into our wages we make so should they.

    1. MandiT says:

      Well – we live here and some of them are 300 miles north. 😉

  10. Karen says:

    Instead of Per Diem, Each day the members of Senate should receive the same food program that our children have in our school system. If they do not like the food choice that day, then they can supply their own meal.

  11. shocked says:

    $31,141 is an absolutely dismal salary. I certainly hope they have other means for providing for their family as this certainly has to be at or near the poverty level. How can we expect someone to fight for our rights when we can’t even pay them a salary that would support middle class? Just food for thought.

    1. Mark T O says:

      Same thoughts here – if this is a real FT position. Which it should be if it is not since it is relevant to us all.
      So raise the anty and cut the per diem out in w/i 50 miles of Capital maybe? I drive 73 miles one way each day and get no help in costs so I know it can be done. I do make more than what they get too – difference there of maybe $12K. Not a lot but a job

    2. Mike says:

      One thing Eric left out of the “Reality Check” is the dollar per hour our representatives earn (even with per diem). I suspect it averages near minimum wage. Most of these people work tirelessly, late into the night and year around, not just during the session. We should stop the demagoguery and either give them a decent salary or allow the per diem. If we do not pay them someone else will.

    3. IP JOE says:

      Ummm, there are a lot of people out there living on a salary like this. Most of these people leave their regular jobs and then go to the capitol. Think about this. You work, what 5 months out of the year? Not a bad gig actually. There are teachers that don’t even make that much money.

  12. Maria L says:

    Anyone >>>> Maria L

    How many hours a day and what type of time do these folks actually put in – if one actually knows here. One one hand I think they maybe comp’d well for what they do and then again they may be comp’d little on a time basis. I have no clue.

  13. Mark Calhoun says:

    So wait…. the worst offender here took home almost $50 in paid compensation? How is this an avenue to save the state money? Unless I’m mistake it looks like they just offered lower salaries because they knew that per diem costs would be higher than an average job. They make roughly twice the average Minnesota per capita income. If this is the best example of excess we can find, we are in dire straights indeed.

    1. Mariam says:

      If I made $50K and lived on road even 4 monthhs a year I’d be better off on welfare as this would be below minimum wage.
      Raise the $ they get, cut the per diem, and limit the number of bodies involved.
      The Cat below is dead on

  14. StraycatStrut says:

    Seems $31K for a salary for what they do….seems low. Per Diem sounds high. Heres a solution that would work. The Legisature needs a pay raise….. adjust the per diem down and then… limit and streamline the legislative districts so we do not have the largest Legislature in the counrty. Cut like half. State will save money and get quality representation.

  15. Deb says:

    That wage is for part time work. This is not a full time job for any of them. and I believe almost all of them have jobs or businesses outside of this. I think it’s crazy that they can get those per diem rates without a receipt. They should be made to prove what they paid and get reimbursed for that. That’s what our agency requires and it makes sense. They might pay $10 for a meal but they get $86 for it? And guess what? The average person in MN would kill for that kind of salary in todays times, especially part time. For a job that requires no education or experience it’s more than a fair salary.

  16. NotShocked says:

    Considering they are only in session 3 months (short session) and 5.5 months (long session) that is actually pretty decent money. Add the per diem on top of that, and the fact that most if not all have other sources of income, and you wont find many starving on the hill. They all live a comfortable lifestyle, well, that is unless you are a poor money manager as former Senator Moua was.

    1. ThomasY says:

      So if I got your comments right THEY do nothing the other 9 or 6.5 months a year as part of their position? If that is true then they are doing okay assuming they can get a work around career. Otherwise they waaaaaay underpaid

  17. MNTaxpayer says:

    This is ridiculous. Why are we paying for lawmakers meals? They get a salary, just like I do, and I pack a lunch or hit the dollar menu. Is it too much to expect that they do the same? There is no reason taxpayers should be footing their meals, but if we really feel like we need to, because we’re just so NICE, then let’s get some receipts. It’s unbelievable that they aren’t currently required.
    As far as them being underpaid, I believe the salary is posted. As with any job, if you can’t make it work on the posted salary, then you don’t apply. It’s that simple.

    1. Miller says:

      Because life is not fair MNT – Don’t you get that yet? It’s okay that these people get meals at work and you don’t. Just as long as it’s not spendy meals, I’m okay with it. Public life is not what it’s cracked up to be and you get a lot of fools approaching you with their “ideas” and “complaints”. It’s a low salary so why not foot the bill for the food at work? I do wish that others would stop comparing their situation to someone else’s constantly. Are you going to then go to your neighbor and say, I live in the same neighborhood and we have similar families, so I should be able to have what you have. It’s so crazy to even think this way.

  18. Jane A says:

    Why aren’t they required to produce receipts?

  19. Jj says:

    I vote no salary, only per diem.

  20. Sam says:

    I believe the cut from $96 to $86 is just over a 10% cut (10.42%). Just sayin’

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