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OTHER OPINION: LEGISLATURE

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If anyone can find a fiscally responsible reason to continue providing Minnesota legislators with per diems, please, do share. We make that request after local and national news reports about such benefits for states’ elected officials.

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USA Today and Times news reports recently noted that Minnesota legislators not only get per diem of $77 per day for representatives and $86 per day for senators, but those funds are allowed to be counted as income on which legislative pensions are based. According to Sept. 23 reports, this double-counting has cost the state more than $430,000 in the past five years alone.

Groans about this are well founded — to the point that we repeat a suggestion made in 2008 shortly after legislators last raised their $66 per-diem payments:

Replace their daily per diems with reimbursement for actual expenses — receipts provided. And no, those reimbursements should not be counted toward any pension package.

And don’t forget, not only do many legislators typically collect thousands annually in daily per diems, but many are eligible for up to $1,200 a month for lodging costs. Capitol parking is covered. And some leadership positions also get stipends.

If that’s not bad enough, these news reports highlight that the law allows legislators to essentially turn money meant for reimbursement of expenses into an investment in their pension package. 

Honestly, what other employer — private or public — doesn’t just overpay an employee for expenses they incur, but also lets them calculate that payment toward their retirement benefits?

This law should be changed by scrapping the entire per-diem system. Legislators should be like most employees. They should be reimbursed for only the expense incurred. And that should not count toward any pension package.

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