A closer look at the House of Representatives’ $4 million legislative payroll.
By JEREMY ALFORD
Which elected member of the state House do you think makes the most money, in terms of their taxpayer-backed salary?
For the most recently completed fiscal year that ended in June, it was not House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, who pulled down $59,074, according to records maintained by the Legislative Auditor’s Office. Nor was it Speaker Pro Tem Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, who earned $45,410.
The highest paid member was Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, whose salary weighed in at $67,894. It’s one of many reasons why lawmakers jockey so ferociously for the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, which Fannin oversees. The hours, however, justify the pay, as the budget-drafting panel meets for weeks before the regular session even convenes.
Legislative salaries can be broken down into three subcategories:
- Salary and expenses
- Travel and interim meetings;
- Per diems for each day spent in a regular or special session
As for the latter, each representative received $9,120 for 60 days of regular session work last fiscal year and $3,800 for the 25 days of March and April they spent in the special redistricting session. That’s $152 per day.
But it doesn’t matter how many days lawmakers actually showed up during the recent sessions; they get the money no questions asked. In fact, a brief review of the House’s daily journals show that days of absence are quite common.
Then there’s travel reimbursements and per diems for interim session work. At least for now, there’s a bit of irony in these numbers.
That’s because the lawmaker who urged the House to cut these kinds of payments during budget debates this spring is also the representative who collected the most money under this category during fiscal year 2011.
Rep. Bodi White, R-Denham Springs, chalked up 79 interim days and consequently received $12,400 in related per diems and travel reimbursements.
Earlier this year, White sponsored a failed amendment that would have reduced per diem rates and expense accounts by 7 percent. “In this body, we have to lead by example,” he told the House in early June. By his own estimation, White said the amendment would have saved the state more than $200,000 annually.
In an interview with THE POLITICAL DESK Tuesday, White explained that he serves as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. When the Unified Command Center hops to life, White said he has to be there. So, when you take into consideration recent hurricanes, river flooding and the BP oil spill, the days and miles begin to add up quickly, he argued.
When asked if he would voluntarily consider cutting his own per diems and expenses by 7 percent, as proposed in his amendment, White said that he tries to reduce his own expenditures every year in an effort to return taxpayer dollars to the House. As of this week, he said he had already returned to the House $1,200 of his $48,120 salary.
“But at the end of the day, I’m probably spending more money than I’m making,” White said. “Just think about it. I probably put in more than 2,000 hours a year. And then when I meet with a chamber of commerce or constituents on my own time, I don’t get paid for that.”
White added that his personal fuel bill for traveling the Senate district he was elected to this fall is nearing $1,000 per month, most of which comes from his own pockets.
[If it’s his personal fuel bill shouldn’t that come from his own pockets? Now if he is on State business doesn’t he get to claim mileage?]