SACRAMENTO, CA - With millions being cut from the California state budget, a lot of salaries and perks for state employees are being questioned by the public.
And the per diem for state lawmakers is not without scrutiny.
Out-of-town members of the California legislature receive $141.86 a day for housing and meals.
FACEBOOK: Fans sound off about lawmakers' per diem
But if they go three days without meeting, they lose that stipend.
Last Friday, which is usually a work day, the state senate met for less than 30 minutes, while the assembly met for a little more than an hour; that's so lawmakers could keep their per diem.
Most that time was spent paying tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.
President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg doesn't take per diem.
His press secretary Mark Hedlund said others need it because, "they've got to pay rent, utilities, all those expenses in a second location as opposed to their home. That's the whole idea behind getting per diem."
"On the face of it, it looks horrible if they meet for 10 minutes, do their business, and collect a check and go home," Political Strategist Steve Maviglio said. "But the reality is, they're there all week long working, sometimes not in session, and they have to collect some salary for that."
Tax-free per diem payments average more than $25,000, on top of lawmakers' regular salaries.
"This is just another example of the abuse of the system," Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association's Jon Coupal said. "The California Legislature is the highest paid legislature in the United States of America. And, they get health care, dental benefits, pensions. These are the things that outrage voters in the state of California."
"Jon Coupal's criticisms make for a good soundbite, except he's wrong," said Hedlund in a written statement. "Legislators do NOT get a state pension from their work in the Assembly or the Senate. It's a common misconception that they do. Legislative pensions were taken away more than 21 years ago when voters passed Proposition 140 in 1990, a measure which also instituted term limits (for legislators, six years/three terms in the Assembly, eight years/2 terms in the Senate). Thus, any legislator first elected on or after November 7, 1990 does NOT get a state pension."
Hedlund also said authorization for per diem is set in the California Constitution.
In 2009, the pay of California lawmakers was cut by 18 percent, trimming their salaries from $116,000 to $95,000.
"Legislators aren't popular and it's not popular to defend them. But they do have to make a living too," Maviglio said. "And they are stretched between two cities and a lot of travel and being away from their families and they need to be compensated or else we're going to get poor quality legislators."
Lawmakers routinely meet on Fridays when there's a Monday holiday to avoid losing their per diem.
By Suzanne Phan, firstname.lastname@example.org
CTNS and News10/KXTV