A newly introduced Senate bill would require elected officials in Pennsylvania to provide receipts for all expenses. SB 1291 would principally target state lawmakers who are paid a flat rate per diem for travel to Harrisburg and committee meetings to cover meals and lodging. The daily rate, now at $159, is tied to the maximum allowable reimbursement rate for federal employees.
“It’s the standard that all businesses use,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania. “Get reimbursed for what you spend. A lot of [lawmakers] say, ‘Let’s be like a business.’ This bill offers a chance to do just that.”
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny, said the change could go through as a rule change in the state House of Representatives and state Senate, but he received an “indifferent response” when he approached some colleagues about the bill.
“This is one we should just get off the table,” Vulakovich said. “Voters don’t want us taking unvouchered expenses. Let’s just get rid of it.”
As a House member, Vulakovich worked for the end of a carpool for members. He also led the charge to have House members contribute to their health care plans. An effort to end the unvouchered expenses there failed.
According to Harrisburg insiders, the Vulakovich bill may get more traction given recent stories published in The Philadelphia Inquirer about the Attorney General’s Office’s investigation into some Philadelphia state lawmakers allegedly accepting cash gifts. Attorney General Kathleen Kane dropped the investigation, saying it was “poorly conceived,” according to the Inquirer. The House ethics panel may investigate on its own, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
— J.L.K. •