California Assembly Seal

Southern California

December 16, 2009 | 4:06 pm

For the second time in as many months, state lawmakers have attempted to avoid an 18% cut in their tax-free daily expense allowance, but again the effort has been foiled.

A representative of state Controller John Chiang said today that state Assembly officials filed a claim on behalf of 71 members for per diem expenses at $170 a day but that his office rejected the claim, saying it was not consistent with a recent cut in the rate to $141.86 starting this month. The reduction was made by a citizen panel that sets lawmakers’ pay and benefits.

The allowance is intended to reimburse legislators for living expenses incurred when they are in Sacramento, far from their homes.
The controller wrote to the Assembly asking that the claims be corrected and resubmitted, and reminding officials that the Citizens Compensation Commission voted in June to cut the allowance. Before the panel acted, the per diem was $173. Without the cut, it would now be $170, because it is tied to the federal per diem reimbursement rate.

Jon Waldie, chief administrative officer of the Assembly, said attorneys for the Legislature have said the commission does not have authority to slash the per diem.

“I still don’t have clarification whether the commission has authority to reduce per diem,” Waldie said, adding that he submitted the claim at the higher level to get a determination from the controller.

A month ago, the Legislature challenged the per diem cut in a letter to state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown asking for a legal opinion. Brown did not address the per diem issue in an opinion that said an 18% pay cut was valid.

— Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento