Oklahoma legislators receive $2.5 million on top of salaries over two years

During the legislative session, Oklahoma law affords weekly mileage reimbursements for travel to the Capitol for all Oklahoma legislators and per diem payments for lodging, meals and travel for legislators living more than 50 miles from the Capitol.
BY JOHN ESTUS Modified: November 19, 2010 at 10:25 am •  Published: November 19, 2010
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Surviving unscathed in state budget cuts that have cost many state workers their jobs is the $2.5 million paid to legislators for lodging, meals and travel the past two fiscal years.

State law affords weekly mileage reimbursements for travel to the Capitol for all legislators and per diem payments for lodging, meals and travel during the session for legislators living more than 50 miles from the Capitol.

Ending the payments would require a vote by legislators to take money out of their own pockets.

The upcoming Senate leader said such a vote isn't out of the question in the face of another budget shortfall many expect to again be more than $1 billion.

“Everything will be on the table,” Senate Pro Tem-elect Brian Bingman said.

Bingman didn't commit to ending or suspending the payments, but an advocate for state workers said it would create goodwill among employees if legislators at least considered doing so.

“Anything we can look at to help save money during this tough time would be greatly appreciated,” said Sterling Zearley, executive director of Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

Legislator per diems and mileage reimbursements have been around since the 1970s and are made on top of legislators' salaries. Legislators have a $38,400 state salary, and those named to leadership positions or as committee heads make more.

Per diems and mileage reimbursements boosted legislator pay by an average of about $8,000 a year the past two fiscal years, an analysis of figures provided by the Legislature shows.

The payments are made under Internal Revenue Service guidelines and are common among legislators in other states.

The $150 per diem Oklahoma legislators were paid last year is lower than the national average of $182 a day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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