Kudos to Senator David Johnson (D, Little Rock) who received ZERO dollars in per diem, mileage and expense money for 2010, according to an admirable enterprise story by Michael Wickline in Sunday’s Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Going back to 2009, during a regular session as is 2011’s session, Mr. Johnson received only $1081.
I recognize Mr. Johnson is at an advantage over the majority of Arkansas legislators because he lives in Little Rock. Yet so does Senator Joyce Elliott who in 2010 received $25,979 in expenses along with Representatives Greenberg ($31,826), Allen ($31,332), Webb ($29,754), Adcock($28,2 00), D. Williams ($27,976), J. Edwards ($26,500) and A. Kerr($24,600). These 8 legislators alone were reimbursed tens of thousands of dollars, all in addition to their regular salaries of $15,869.
The closest example to Mr. Johnson’s fiscal restraint in 2009 was Representative James Word, (D-Pine Bluff) who received $24,600. And the totals soar from there, reaching a maximum collected of $60,092 by Senator Jimmy Jeffress (D,Crossett, appoximately 150 miles from the Capitol)…YES~I just wrote 60 thousand dollars in expenses reimbursements. This year, Sen. Jeffress cut back a bit after receiving some backlash over his steep expenses during 2009, and only collected $52,427.
We should give Rep. Nate Steel recognition, too, because in 2010 he only received $3,833, and he lives in Nashville, which is some 150 miles from the Capitol. Third runner-up for most fiscally responsible legislator is Rep. Steve Cole (D-Lockesburg) who rang in at $13,647 for 2010 (much less than his figure in 2009 of $35,468). Lockesburg is also right around 150 miles from the capitol.
Wonder why there is such a HUGE discrepancy in the amount of money reimbursed for basically the same travel? I understand that different legislators are on different committees and have different responsibilities but a $60,000.00 annual difference is a pretty big difference…
Wickline’s article points out that the first time an Arkansas legislator collected more than $50,000 in a single year was in 2007. Since then: In 2008 four lawmakers collected in excess of $50 thousand and in 2009 a whopping TWENTY legislators joined the crowd. The word obviously got around.
Those in the Top 20 during 2009 and what they collected from taxpayers for expenses (again, not including their salaries)
Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett $60,092
Rep. Bill Abernathy, D-Mena $56,592
Rep. Ray Kidd, D-Jonesboro $56,366
Rep. Mark Martin, R-Prairie Grove $56,290
Rep. Eddie Cooper, D-Melbourne $54,892
Rep. Buddy Lovell, D-Marked Tree $53,998
Sen. Gene Jeffress, D-Louann $53,949
Rep. Billy Gaskill, D-Paragould $53,524
Rep. Mike Patterson, D-Piggott $52,588
Rep. Monty Davenport, D-Yellville $52,047
Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale $51,949
Rep. Gregg Reep, D-Warren $51,898
Rep. Tommy Baker, D-Osceola $51,641
Rep. Curren Everett, D-Salem $51,492
Rep. George Overbey, D-Lamar $51,452
Rep. Nathan George, D-Dardanelle $50,860
Rep. Robert Moore, D-Arkansas City $50,603
Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette $50,522
Sen. Steve Bryles, D-Blytheville $50,442
Rep. Allen Maxwell, D-Monticello $50,087
And then there were 8 lawmakers collecting over 50 thousand dollars in 2010:
Sen Laverty, D-Jasper $59,745
Rep. Kidd, D-Jonesboro $54,064
Sen. J Jeffress, D-Crossett $52,427
Rep. T. Baker, D-Osceola $52,199
Rep. Gaskill, D- Paragould $52,100
Rep. Patterson, D-Piggott $51,814
Rep. Woods, R- Springdale $51,467
Rep. Davenport, D-Yellville $51,186
Senator Laverty was the only one of the 2010 big expense collectors not to also reach the $50K mark in 2009, although he was just shy at $43,966.
These numbers are stunning to me, especially since I spent 2010 continuously traveling Arkansas from corner to corner and back again. Kerry Baldwin and I held 41 trainings, over a dozen events and a handful of speaking engagements from Texarkana to Mt. Home to Jonesboro and over to Fort Smith.
I traveled over 100 days and sometimes hit four cities encompassing 400 miles over a two-day period and never submitted a travel reimbursement voucher for more than $1000 in any single month.
It’s my understanding that legislators who live within 50 miles of the Capitol receive a flat fee” per diem of somewhere between $2,000 to $2,200, never having to even fill out an expense report. Those living more than 50 miles away receive $.51 per mile, round trip, and $149 a day per diem, with no expense report required.
As a business owner, I can’t turn those kinds of records into the IRS. Could you? I mean, can we talk some common sense here? And as a person who works for an organization that reimburses my proven travel expenses, I have to turn in a detailed expense report every two weeks with receipts attached. That’s if I expect to receive reimbursement. So someone tell me why should our public servants be any different?
Today, and not a moment too soon, Arkansas legislators introduced SB194. A bipartisan “Ethics Bill”. Please read this bill (it’s only 2 pages) and let me know if you think this will alleviate the obvious problem of paid officials continually soaking the taxpayers?
In 2010 $4.7 million was paid to 135 part-time legislators, most of whom have other vocations outside of their public service. I don’t think there’s a constituent in our state that would expect or want our law makers to absorb personal costs for officially tending to the affairs of our State. Yet I believe – and am convinced- that the sizes of these “expense” numbers as reported by Mr. Wickline are questionable.
I’d also encourage each of you to contact legislators in your area and make a habit of regularly submitting FOIA requests for their expense records. Show them you care and are watching our business as closely as any newspaper reporter. Itemized accountability has a way of curbing anyone’s desire to “inflate” numbers in the private or public sector.