Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

February 19, 2014

A costly perk

Bill puts limits on free hotel rooms for lawmakers

Believe it or not, some state legislators who live a mere half-hour or less from the State House in Annapolis spend $101 of state money per day to stay in a hotel during the legislative session. In fact, even if a lawmaker resides in Annapolis, he or she can still move into a hotel room at state expense.

The practice has been going on for years. But now a Howard County Republican senator is sponsoring a bill that would end the per diem subsidy for hotel rooms for about two-thirds of legislators.

Sen. Allan H. Kittleman’s bill does away with hotel subsidies for any legislator who lives within 50 miles of Annapolis. The only exception would be during the final two weeks of the session — when lawmakers work well into the night. The final two weeks would permit hotel stays at state taxpayer expense.

The Daily Record in Baltimore reports that 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.

Besides the housing subsidy, senators and delegates receive $42 per day for meals and are not required to submit receipts for reimbursement. Last year the meals cost the state $432,700. Another $182,500 was paid to legislators 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, the Daily Record reported.

Legislators from far-away areas like Allegany and Garrett county should obviously be permitted to have lodging during the 90-day sessions. But for those who live relatively close to the capital, paying for overnight hotel lodgings seems to us to be a ripoff of state tax money.

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