Lawmakers in Minnesota have claimed more than $3.2 million in per diem pay since the beginning of 2020.
Last year, there were seven rounds of special sessions, totaling 26 days, and a regular session. Coupled with the 2021 regular session, House and Senate expense records show a total cost of $3.2 million for per diem payments, WCCO reported. This number does not include the 24-day special session this June.
House members can receive a $66 per day payment and Senate members can receive an $86 per day payment. These payments are in addition to other expenses, such as lodging and travel, as well as their base salaries.
In 2020, the representative who incurred the most per diem payments was House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, with a total of $8,646. In the upper chamber, dozens of senators received $8,428, the highest sum on the list.
The Legislative Salary Council stated in a March report that the “inexplicably different” House and Senate per diem payments support “concern that these amounts have little to do with expenses.” The council stated that it would “support an increase in salary if per diem were eliminated.”
The council was more direct in its 2019 report, calling per diems a “non-transparent form of additional salary.” Legislators aren’t required to submit receipts for per diem payments.
“As a result, the council continues to encourage the Minnesota Senate and the House of Representatives to consider eliminating per diems and replacing them with reimbursement for actual expenses. The council is sympathetic to the challenges of the paperwork involved, but most council members, with experience in both the public and private sectors, recognize this as a standard business practice,” the 2019 report added.
Some members have vowed to donate their per diem payments to local organizations or not take the money at all.
Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville, chose to donate his June 2021 per diem payments to the Lakeville Public Safety Foundation. Rep. Cal Bahr, R-East Bethel, opted not to take per diem in 2020, saying that he is “no different than any other Minnesotan that goes home after work each day.”
“As someone who comes from the transportation industry, per diem is intended to cover increased costs of meals/lodging while not at home. I go home every night. I do not have any increased costs,” he said.
Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, was the only other legislator to refuse per diem in 2020.
Megan Olson is a 2020 graduate of the University of Minnesota with degrees in political science and history. She works in public affairs in addition to serving on the Legislative Advisory Council for School District 196. She is also on the school board for FIT academy, a charter school in Apple Valley.