Many Californians will take the day off Friday. It’s a lone workday sandwiched between the Independence Day holiday and a weekend, in the heart — and the heat — of summer.
But California lawmakers will travel from all ends of the state to Sacramento, where the Senate and Assembly will hold regular floor sessions.
Why are the 119 state lawmakers currently in office making the taxpayer-funded, one-day round-trip to the state Capitol, instead of holding district events or spending a long holiday weekend with their families?
The Assembly and Senate agendas include final votes on budget bills involving clean drinking water for underprivileged communities, and housing and homelessness aid for local governments. A Senate committee is also scheduled to hear legislation that would implement Gov. Gavin Newsom’s wildfire liability proposal.
For their one day of work, lawmakers will also receive three days worth of per diem payments — a predetermined reimbursement rate for expenses that include travel, lodging and meals. For 2019, the per diem rate for lawmakers — as set by the federal government for travel to Sacramento — is $201 a day.
Had the Senate and Assembly taken the day off on Friday, lawmakers would have lost not just those three days of per diem payments but also a fourth, costing each senator and assembly member who chooses to take per diem $804.
The Senate says all 40 senators accept per diem, although Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) donates his after-tax proceeds to charities in his district and Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) only accepts per diem on days he must stay overnight in Sacramento. The Assembly says 76 of its 79 current members accept per diem.
So California taxpayers will spend more than $90,000 on four days of per diem payments for Friday’s one-day session.
The Assembly said in a statement that it’s meeting Friday “to do the people’s business by voting on budget items that provide clean drinking water and address the housing and homelessness crises.” Speaker Anthony Rendon’s office adds that Assembly members are not being allowed to take excused absences on Friday, meaning that any member who misses work that day will lose $603 in per diem payments.
The Senate, in a letter responding to what it deemed to be a request under the Legislative Open Records Act, noted that the “significant number of bills” lawmakers must consider given the Legislature’s tight timeline before adjourning in mid-September. “Meeting on Friday, July 5 in lieu of meeting on a holiday is part of our responsibility as legislators,” the letter added.
Lawmakers receive per diem on top of their salaries, currently set at $110,459 for rank-and-file senators and assembly members.
At a rate of $201 per day for the more than 200 days the Senate and Assembly will be in session this year, lawmakers will collect more than $40,000 in per diem payments in 2019.