The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 25, 2013

Pay the expenses, get the receipts

Daily Item

---- — Of course, it makes sense for legislators in Harrisburg to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses if they must travel significant distances, stay overnight and eat meals while governing the state.

It also probably makes sense for them to have some kind of cap on that reimbursement so that they do not accidentally run up bills that give the appearance of elaborate lifestyles while on duty at the capital.

And, maybe, the $159 a day legislators are allowed has some basis in fact, being the amount established by the IRS for reimbursement and certainly generous enough for handle the kinds of expenses most elected officials will encounter, even from the farthest reaches of the commonwealth.

But there is an even simpler and better way to do this -- the way it is done everywhere else, every day in and out of government by non-profit and for-profit organizations that conduct any business whatsoever away from the home office.

Pay the expenses. Get receipts. Turn in the receipts. Receive reimbursement.

That way everybody can discover how much was spent, when it was spent, where it was spent and probably why it was spent. In the interest of public accountability and government transparency, this is a step Harrisburg should have taken ages ago.

There is no gripe here about legislators who represent the Valley, who can be frugal nearly to a fault. Two freshmen put in for absolutely no expenses their first term — zero -- just as they had promise during their campaigns. Good for them, but voters should expect and accept reasonable expenses. Fair is fair.

On the other hand, Harrisburg is probably more notorious for per diem abuse— claiming lodging on nights when they actually made it home or pooling per diems into a year-round apartments.

There is no reason the people of Pennsylvania should not get what they pay for or not pay for what they get -- and know it.

The solution is simple, direct and standard procedure throughout the communities these elected officials represent.

Anyone in a job with base pay of $84,000 a year should have the skill and integrity to manage and report an expense account that his or her bosses can verify.

We all know $159 a day is ridiculously generous for a day in Harrisburg (no offense). The instant that number becomes transparent and verifiable, it should sink like a rock.