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.
â€œEverything will be on the table,â€ 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.
â€œAnything we can look at to help save money during this tough time would be greatly appreciated,â€ 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.
Oklahoma legislators can also get small per diems during the summer.
Per diems are paid regardless of whether the legislators actually incurred the expense. The payments are included on their paychecks.
Several legislators â€” including some from rural areas â€” declined to discuss the payments or didn't return calls Thursday.
Sen. Jim Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, who doesn't receive a per diem, said covering legislators' costs to come to the Capitol helps make the Legislature more diverse. He said cutting per diems and travel reimbursements may discourage some from serving.
â€œI'm afraid you would end up with the only people from the rural areas who could run would be the ones who are extremely wealthy,â€ Reynolds said. â€œI'm proud that we have the kind of Legislature that can at least pay guys enough that they can come down, and we get a wide variety of professions here.â€
Reynolds said a better idea may be cutting the Legislature's workweek during the session to three days rather than four. Reynolds said legislators often leave early on Thursdays.
â€œThe story that's always said around the Capitol is Thursday is so the guys can collect their per diem,â€ Reynolds said.
Bingman, who is from Sapulpa, gets a per diem during the session. He is one of several legislators who uses some of the money to rent an apartment in Oklahoma City during the session.
Bingman said his 3-year-old car already has more than 100,000 miles on it because of legislative travel.
â€œIt's a lot of wear and tear on your vehicle,â€ Bingman said.