Legislators’ daily allowances totaled nearly $800,000 in 2018
Lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate collected just under $800,000 in daily travel allowances in 2018, an 18 percent increase over the previous election year.
The Wisconsin State Journal reviewed records submitted to the Assembly and Senate chief clerks of the money legislators receive in daily allowances, known as per diem payments.
The allowances they collected over the last year have increased since 2016 — an election year and thus the most recent comparable period — when lawmakers were granted $676,463.
The amount claimed last year is roughly $500,000 less than in 2017, a year when legislators were busy debating the state budget.
Per diem amounts are in addition to the annual $53,000 salary lawmakers receive along with other benefits, such as paid mileage and health insurance.
Per diems in both chambers have increased over the years, although Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, capped the total number of days members in his chamber could claim an allowance in 2018, the second year of the two-year budget, to reflect a lighter schedule.
Per diem rates in the Assembly are set at 90 percent of the federal rate, translating to $81 per day for members who live in Dane County or do not stay overnight when in Madison. Members of the Assembly who do stay overnight can collect a maximum of $162 per day. The payments do not include mileage reimbursements.
In the current session, members of the Assembly can claim per diem payments for a maximum of 153 days in 2019 and 90 days for 2020.
Legislators at the beginning of the session select the daily amount of money they’ll receive whenever they request per diem payments over the two-year session.
As might be expected, the lawmakers who collected the most in daily allowances are legislative leaders.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, collected $10,912 over the past year, claiming 93 days of allowances.
Other top recipients of per diem in the Assembly include Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, who received $10,755. Zamarripa did not respond to a request seeking comment.
The third-highest recipient was Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, who collected $10,048 for 81 days in Madison.
Nathan Schwanz, a Nygren spokesman, attributed the per diem collected to the fact Nygren is co-chairman of the state’s powerful budget-writing committee and often stays overnight in Madison, as he lives three hours away.
Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, also collected $10,048 for 77 days, while Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander, received $9,970 for 82 days.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, clocked in as the top daily allowance recipient. Fitzgerald, who lives about an hour away by car, claimed $14,960 for 170 days in Madison.
Members of the Senate can collect up to $115 per day for days spent in Madison on state business. Dane County senators are allowed half that amount, $57.50.
Former Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, who unsuccessfully ran for governor instead of seeking re-election, received $12,650 for 110 days.
Despite living in Madison, Democratic Sen. Fred Risser collected $11,600 for 232 days.
“I’m proud of the fact that I spend time here more than anyone else,” Risser said. “I hold regular office hours.”
Risser noted he takes $50 daily rather than the maximum $57.50, and regards the amount as part of his salary.
The fourth-highest recipient in the Senate, Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, collected $10,235 for 89 days in Madison on state business. He pointed to his membership on several committees, including Joint Finance and the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, as his reasons for taking allowances.
Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, logged the fifth-highest allowance in the Senate, collecting $10,120 for 115 days.