Stipends for state lawmakers make up the bulk of what’s driving the cost of keeping the Legislature in Olympia to more than $10,000 a day so far.
But 20 lawmakers have rejected the $90-per-day stipends altogether during the special session.
House Speaker Frank Chopp isn’t taking the “per diem” checks. Neither are Reps. Katrina Asay, R-Milton, Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, Fred Finn, D-Thurston County, David Frockt, D-Seattle, Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, Troy Kelley, D-Tacoma, Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, Marcie Maxwell, D-Tulalip, and five senators: Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, Andy Hill, R-Redmond, Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, Paull Shin, D-Mukilteo, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor.
That’s fewer than last year, when at least 48 lawmakers declined to take their per diem on top of their $42,106 salary. The most obvious difference: That was an election year for most of the Legislature, a time when worries might be heightened that voters will resent lawmakers getting paid extra for not finishing their job on time.
Last year, too, many of the refusals came from minority Republicans who were explicitly protesting the special session. Senate Republicans even filed a bill to prevent per diem checks from being paid out during special sessions, with sponsors including Sens. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, Mike Carrell of Lakewood, Janea Holmquist Newbry of Moses Lake, Randi Becker of Eatonville, Val Stevens of Arlington, Hugh Morton of Kettle Falls, Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee, Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside, Curtis King of Yakima and Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla. All of them are taking per diem during this year’s special session.
The GOP effort to halt stipends never went anywhere, and Hewitt said it was a protest against the overtime session. He didn’t accept per diem last year because he signed onto the bill, he said, but reverted this year to his normal practice of taking the stipends.
This year, Republicans are playing a much greater role in the debates that have led to a special session. Hewitt’s Senate Republicans have collaborated with majority Democrats on a budget, and their demands for savings in the state worker’s compensation system, for a lower state debt ceiling and privatization of some government functions have been among the roadblocks to a deal.
“The bills we’re trying to get through down here are going to save people billions in the long term,” Hewitt said, comparing that to the thousands of dollars spent in session costs.
Most of the 147 House and Senate members are taking stipends, including South Sound Reps. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, Tami Green, D-Lakewood, Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma, Jim McCune, R-Graham, Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way, and Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, and Sens. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, and Pam Roach, R-Auburn.
But some of them have taken per diem payments at a rate less than the allotted $90 on some or all days. Those include Carrell, Sen. Debbie Regala of Tacoma, Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County, Rep. Richard DeBolt of Chehalis, Rep. Mary Helen Roberts of Lynnwood and Rep. Steve Tharinger of Sequim.
Several legislators said they want Washington to uphold the ideal of a citizen legislature that is supposed to meet only part time and that has members from all walks of life who leave their jobs for part of the year to govern the state.
Without reimbursement for travel costs and meals, ordinary people might not be able to serve in the Legislature, said Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch. “We’ll just have retired people or wealthy individuals,” he said.
Sheldon accepts per diem, although not on weekends as some do, and not on days like today, when he receives a per diem check for attending a meeting of the executive board of Energy Northwest.