By Chas Sisk, The Tennessean
Tennessee lawmakers collected 11 percent less in daily pay and expense reimbursements in 2011 than their counterparts did a year ago, according to records released by the state legislature.
lawmakers received a combined $2.2 million in daily "per diem" payments
and reimbursements in the first half of the year, an average of about
$17,000 per session for each senator and representative. That was down
from more than $2.5 million in 2010, an average of more than $19,000.
of the decrease can be attributed to a shorter legislative session this
year. The state legislature adjourned on May 21, nearly three weeks
earlier than in 2010.
"I think we approached this whole session
with the mentality of getting our work done in a timely fashion,"
Speaker Beth Harwell said. "The General Assembly worked efficiently."
32 state senators who served the entire 2011 term collected an average
of $13,405 in daily payments, plus $2,856 in expenses, an analysis by The Tennessean
found. The 98 state representatives who served the whole term collected
an average of $14,135 in per diems, plus $3,108 in expenses.
in the state House of Representatives received about $500 more in per
diems and expense reimbursements than their Democratic counterparts.
Senate Republicans collected nearly $900 more than Democrats.
members of the House of Representatives collected an average of $16,770
in per diems and expense reimbursements, about $600 less than senior
members of that chamber.
Three lawmakers - state Sens. Ferrell Haile and Kerry Roberts and state Rep. Antonio Parkinson - were excluded from The Tennessean's analysis because they served partial terms.
Per diem decreased
State lawmakers were paid $176 for each day they conducted
legislative business, in addition to their base salary of $19,009. These
per diem payments are meant to cover lawmakers' expenses while in
Nashville, but legislators are allowed to keep any money that is left
In addition, state lawmakers receive reimbursement of 46
cents per mile for trips to and from Nashville. The state also covers
registration and hotel costs for legislative conferences.
the savings this year can be attributed to a $9 decrease in the amount
of lawmakers' per diems. Each lawmaker would have received nearly $600
more had he or she been paid at last year's rate.
Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, led all state lawmakers in per
diem payments, collecting $19,536, indicating he spent 111 days on
legislative business. State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, collected
the least, $10,384, indicating he spent 59 days on legislative
Sens. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, and Jim Tracy,
R-Shelbyville, tied for the largest per diems in the Senate, $16,368.
Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle collected $11,264 in per diems, the
least among members of that chamber.
lawmakers, state Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, collected the most in
per diems, $16,192. The sum indicates Gilmore spent 92 days on
At the conclusion of the session in May,
Republicans were quick to say that the shorter legislative calendar had
saved taxpayer money.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Thursday that he
hopes to beat this year's adjournment date in 2012. Next year's
legislative session will start Jan. 10.
"If we hit the ground
running the second week in January ... I think there's a chance we can
get out three or four weeks earlier than this year," Ramsey said. "I
think that's what the people want."
But House Democratic Leader
Craig Fitzhugh doubted this year's decline in per diems and expense
reimbursements is a sign of a trend.
"The House polices itself and
has for the last few years," he said. "I don't see that (lower per
diems) as something we can necessarily look to, to reduce the cost of
Expenses per member *
|Others in House
* Excludes lawmakers who served partial terms
Source: Office of Legislative Administration