Harrisburg, PA – Congress was on recess. Policy making in parliament has come to a standstill. But the state legislature, Chris Signato, was once again trying to get the money.
It was in early August 2019, when a Pennsylvania lawmaker from Lawrence County traveled to Nashville to meet with other lawmakers across the country. Later that month, his trip took him to Harrisburg and then back to Coatesville, Lewistown, State College, Erie, Harrisburg and around towns near Pittsburgh.
Sinato’s travel tab (paid for by taxpayers) included over $ 1,950 in mileage, parking and other transportation costs, as well as $ 3,000 in special per diem. This is a lump sum payment which the legislator can claim at any time without a receipt. They travel more than 50 miles outside the district.
Western Pennsylvania Democrats, who pride themselves on never missing a day of work, say these costs are only part of the business for people.
After all, the business can also be incredibly profitable.
From his election to the House of Representatives in late 1994 until mid-January of this year, Sainto spent over $ 1.8 million on mileage, meals, accommodation, travel and office expenses, or was personally reimbursed. . .. Per diem – All taxpayers will be billed based on an analysis of expense records conducted by The Caucus and Spotlight PA as part of an ongoing investigation. Hidden tab..
Inflation-adjusted totals exceed $ 2.2 million.
At the same time, Sinato and other lawmakers, who make up the largest full-time legislature in the United States, are experiencing an almost annual increase in living expenses and are today one of the highest-paid states. -United. .. In addition to a salary of $ 90,335, I paid $ 21,951 in reimbursement of expenses and a per diem allowance of $ 30,746. Most of them were rounded up during the pandemic, with the state’s economy stagnant and millions unemployed.
“I can’t believe it,” Sinato said in a recent interview about his costs. “I don’t know where I’m getting $ 1.8 million from.”
According to the Pennsylvania Legislative Reference Office, the Sinato Party was in the minority for most of the term of the legislature and was the main sponsor of both bills.
In many expense categories reported by the press, Sinato’s spending was primarily due to his unique style of outing, not his extravagant spending on office furniture, staff salaries, or member gifts. It exceeded my colleague’s cost. legislation.
In an interview, Sinato, 62, said most of his expenses were due to the fact that he never missed a day of work. “A perfect dossier inspired by you,” he wrote in a newsletter to stakeholders last fall.
“That’s all I do. I haven’t missed a day, ”said Sainto, who has a bachelor’s degree and is one of the Chamber of Commerce’s oldest lawmakers. It was. “It’s the only job I have…. every time I’m supposed to be there, I go.
Even during the pandemic, he was attending daily sessions and receiving per diems when many of his household colleagues first took advantage of new rules allowing remote voting. Sinato said it was his duty to appear.
Its fees are part of the hidden fees charged to taxpayers to support the Pennsylvania State Parliament. Every year, lawmakers are paid a total of millions of dollars just for driving, going to work, staying at work, eating at work, and coming home from work. Other perks are offered in the form of access to a campaign account that can be used for almost any expense, including dinners paid for by lobbyists and trade associations, unrestricted giveaways (as shown), meals and travel. .. And even shoes.
The costs are spread over a series of statutory accounts which are largely protected from the public. Caucus and Spotlight PA acquired and analyzed nearly 400,000 legislative costs from 2017 to 2020 as part of a year-long survey of statutory spending. And other shipping costs.
In response to the report, top Republican leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate said they were working on a plan to make most parliamentary spending available on publicly accessible websites. A senator, Lindsey Williams, Democrat of Allegheny County, said he would introduce a bipartisan bill demanding transparency in spending.
As part of an ongoing investigation, the press has demanded all spending from the first day of Sinato’s inauguration until mid-January 2021. These records reveal a fairly consistent spending pattern for over 25 years. . Adjusted for inflation, he has spent an average of $ 86,000 per year on taxes since 1995.
In addition to the usual administrative costs such as rent and supplies for district offices, Sinato attends out-of-state meetings about 20 times over the years, visiting dozens of towns in Pennsylvania each year. Indicates that an audience, tour, ceremony, etc. took place. Event.
“This is absolutely morally wrong, and people know it,” said Katie True, a Lancaster County Republican who shunned many of the benefits of work during her tenure as the state legislature. Mentionned. “The whole system has to be radically changed. “
Records show that Sainato has approximately $ 162,000 in mileage and other transportation costs (gasoline, parking, tolls, etc.) in excess of $ 175,000.
For all trips to Pennsylvania, Sinato initially used state-owned vehicles at a cost of about $ 4,800 per year for rental, $ 3,600 per year for gasoline and oil, and $ 350 per year for maintenance. Since the vehicle was divested in 2012, he has amassed an average of about $ 16,700 per year in mileage.
Even in the midst of the recession of the late 2000s, Sinato failed to cut spending when lawmakers cut billions of dollars from their budgets. During the 19 months from December 2007 to June 2009, the Democratic Party billed $ 120,226 in total expenses. Of this money, $ 49,448 was sent to Sainato as a per diem.
Per diems vary depending on the time of year and whether legislators travel with or without a vote. Pennsylvania’s rates are among the most generous in the country. Analysis According to the National Assembly of Parliamentarians.
This allows state lawmakers to claim such payments, albeit in small amounts, not only when going to Capitol Hill to vote, but also for any business or travel related to what is known as out of session work. . Because it’s done. day after day. And per diem clocks start working as soon as they leave the house.
Since the western part of Pennsylvania at Signato is the furthest from the Capitol (approximately 262 miles), you will need to leave for Harrisburg the day before your voting session and return the next day to collect more per diems. He said he could. ..
Records show that is only half the story.
Sainato also received $ 372,140 in “out of session” per diems in connection with 2,621 claims made over the 25 years. This represents an average of around 105 travel days each year. That’s about double the average number of voting days on Capitol Hill in any given year.
Many of his per diem sessions were intended for legislative hearings and other events in the state, but also for visits to or near the Capitol grounds on the day of the recess from Congress. has been.
For example, on May 29, 2012, when a Diet member was adjourned for a week on election day, he was given a non-session of $ 163 per day to visit the Medal of Honor memorial of the state one minute walk from the state. Capitol. Collected. According to the expense reports, this was a tour he did in the year in July 2011.
Crossing state to attend a Democratic Political Committee meeting was another reason Sinato’s per diem non-session was so high. Republicans and Democrats from each chamber of commerce head such committees. The committee does not have the right to vote, but rather meets to discuss issues and policies important to its party.
According to the records, he attended at least 634 policy committee hearings, and although the ambiguous nature of the records made it impossible to determine the exact number, he served as a lawmaker for $ 107,338. I received.
He also collected daily “no-sessions” when traveling out of state for meetings.
For example, in 2002, Sainato made his first suburban trip to New Orleans for an All-National Legislative Council of Game State meeting. At that time, casino gambling was not yet legal in Pennsylvania.
During his four-day stay, he submitted a non-session of $ 567 per day. Expense reports don’t explain what the money was used to cover – and his caucuses need no explanation.
Since then, he has attended 22 conferences outside of Pennsylvania, including South Beach, Florida. Scottsdale, Arizona. Seattle; San Francisco and Napa, Calif., Collect $ 19,200 per day without a session, as expense reports show. This does not include registration fees related to travel or other transportation costs.
Over the past two decades, strong government supporters, along with a small number of lawmakers, have criticized everything from high wages to the other perks of the job. Per diems in particular are a headache, and many are demanding that they abandon their per diems in favor of a system that reimburses the real costs.
But every year efforts stall as nothing is done and changes are left to lawmakers. Exactly the same people enjoy the benefits.
Increasing transparency is part of the solution, but former Republican True said a fundamental change was needed in his expense account.
“Daily coverage? How do you check it? “
When asked if it was desirable to record actual expenses, he said it would be a hindrance to getting things done “for people like me who are very busy”.
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