Sen. Allan H. Kittleman sure knows how to make friends within the General Assembly.
Kittleman, R-Howard, is wrapping up what will be his final year in the state Senate and as a parting gift, he’s sponsoring a bill that would end the per diem subsidy for hotel rooms for about two-thirds of state lawmakers.
Senate bill 421 would end the $101 per day subsidy for hotel rooms for any legislator who lives within 50 miles of Annapolis. The bill provides some flexibility for the final two weeks of the session and allows the Speaker of the House and Senate President to bend the rules in cases of bad weather or other extenuating circumstances.
“This demonstrates to constituents that we understand what they’re going through and that we don’t look at ourselves as more important,” Kittleman said. “This is the fiscally responsible thing to do.”Currently, members of the General Assembly are entitled to a housing per diem which is set by the General Assembly Compensation Commission per IRS guidelines.
Last year the state spent $1.4 million on housing allowances for legislators. Of that, $816,000 went to 105 legislators who live within the 50 mile limit proposed by Kittleman’s law. Another 19 who live within the limit claimed no housing per diems last year, according to the Department of Legislative Services.
Legislators also receive $42 per day for meals and are not required to submit receipts for that reimbursement—about $432,700 last year. Lawmakers were also reimbursed $182,500 for mileage expenses.
An analysis of the bill found that, if passed, Kittleman’s proposal would save the state $693,400 annually in housing expenses and $221,100 in meal expenses. Mileage reimbursements would likely increase by $130,500 but the total savings to the state in fiscal 2015 would be $784,000.
That savings would increase to $791,800 in fiscal 2019 because of inflation.
Lawmakers get that per diem for the entire 90 days even though they are really only in Annapolis Monday night through Friday afternoon. Kittleman said many who avail themselves of hotels rent the rooms for the entire 90 days even though they are not using the rooms on weekends.
“Even if they checked out on weekends, the state could save $30,000 every weekend,” Kittleman said.
An additional downside to the bill is that analysts predict an impact to local businesses—hotels and restaurants and bars that will see decreased income due to all the legislators who won’t be hanging around at night.
Still, Kittleman said the bill is the right thing to do.
“These are tough fiscal times and are revenues are being written down all the time,” Kittleman said, adding that the current rules allowing anyone to stay over “don’t make any sense to me.”
For the record, the senator said he goes home most nights but estimated he seeks reimbursement for a hotel “about six or seven times a session,” he said.
Kittleman acknowledges the bill faces a tough road. Legislators are not likely to vote against their own self-interest. Additionally, he said there are questions about whether he can do this through simple legislation because it’s considered part of the compensation package.
Kittleman said he plans on amending the bill in committee to amend it to the state constitution—a move that would require a super majority vote in both the House and Senate as well as voter approval in the 2014 election.
“We could save a lot of money,” Kittleman said. “In a $39 billion budget it might not sound like a lot of money but to our constituents, that sounds like a lot of money.”