Lawmaker rejects per diem, tax-funded car

Lawmaker rejects per diem, tax-funded car

Catharine BakerA newly-elected Bay Area lawmaker isn’t reveling in the perks of public office. She’s forgoing two of the best bonuses afforded to members of the California Legislature.

As her first act in office, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Pleasanton, has declined per diem payments and a taxpayer-funded vehicle, saying that it’s a way to give something back to taxpayers.

“Rather than introduce a bill on the first day of session I want to give something back to the taxpayers and constituents that elected me to office,” Baker said in a press release announcing her decision to forgo the perks. “My very first action as an Assembly member will be to decline both the state issued vehicle and per diem.”

Baker declines per diem

In addition to their annual salary of $97,197, state lawmakers receive $141.86 tax-free for every day they are in Sacramento on legislative business. Latin for “per day,” the intent of the supplemental payment system is to help elected officials “defray additional living expenses, such as maintaining a second residence,” according to the California State Assembly Office of the Chief Clerk.

Other states commonly provide per diem to state lawmakers. However, as the Orange County Register pointed out in 2010, “What makes our lawmakers unique is the number of billable days they rack up. Many California lawmakers were eligible for more than 200 days of per diem in 2009 and many netted more than $37,000 in tax-free money. … All told, the state spent more than $4 million on legislative per diem in 2009.”

Traditionally, lawmakers that represent the Sacramento region have declined to accept per diem. But that’s not a legal requirement. In 2012, then-Assemblyman Richard Pan, who represented portions of Sacramento, accepted per diem to help offset the costs of a recent move, according to the Sacramento Bee.

“I think the rationale is that I have to maintain two places of residence,” Pan told the Bee. “I know that we’re all trying to work things out.”

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said Baker’s decision to decline per diem was a “very smart political move.”

“Catharine actually has a legitimate claim to the per diem because it would be 3 hours’ round trip for her,” Coupal said. “Certainly those who live close to the Capital should consider declining.”

History of abuse, misuse of state vehicles

In addition to per diem, lawmakers have also abused the perk of a state-issued vehicle. In August, State Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. The San Diego lawmaker drove his state-issued vehicle the wrong way on a one-way street near the state Capitol. The charges were later downgraded to a lesser “wet reckless” charge that carries no jail time.

Despite the incident, voters re-elected Hueso on Nov. 4 with 55 percent of the vote.

Former State Sen. Carole Migden rear-ended a Fairfield motorist in 2007, while driving her state-issued Toyota Highlander. The other driver sustained minor injuries and received a $335,000 settlement paid for by taxpayers.

In 2012, the Associated Press uncovered a scheme where lawmakers ordered upgrades to state-issued vehicles and then purchased the vehicles for their personal use. Of 64 lawmakers that had state-financed repairs on their vehicles that year, 37 went on to purchase their vehicles. In some cases, the improvements were scheduled days before leaving office.

“At least a dozen California lawmakers repaired or upgraded their state-provided vehicles at taxpayers’ expense in the final weeks before the one-of-its-kind perk was ending, then later bought those vehicles for personal use,” according to AP. “The improvements ranged from cosmetic changes such as fixing dents and replacing wheel covers, to getting tires, multipoint inspections and new parts such as fuel pumps that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.”

Baker possible trend-setter?

Could more GOP lawmakers follow Baker’s lead?

GOP activist Allen Wilson said he hopes other members who talk tough on taxpayer funds, follow her example.

“I implore other GOP Assembly members to follow Catharine Baker’s lead,” said Wilson, who believes the party faithful appreciate when “a legislator does more than talk.”

That opinion was echoed by one GOP party leader. “I am so proud of my friend Catharine Baker, who is leading by example by declining a state owned vehicle and a per diem,” Harmeet Dhillon, vice-chair of the California Republican Party, recently wrote on her Facebook page. “I hope I hear about other Republican and Democrat legislators taking this pledge.”

Baker, the first Republican to win a seat in the Bay Area in years, represents the communities of Alamo, Danville, Dublin, Lafayette, Livermore, Moraga, Orinda, Pleasanton, San Ramon and Walnut Creek.

7 comments

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  1. Timberrrrrr......
    Timberrrrrr...... 8 December, 2014, 14:12

    Boy, Catharine has become a fly in the ointment, hasn’t she? This could start to set a trend putting pressure on other lawmakers to follow suit or get voted from office. Catharine had better be careful. The GOP party could pull the plug on any campaign donations for the next election. Sacramento has ways of forcing legislators to toe the line and not make waves. It’s never been about them saving taxpayers more money. It’s always been about them padding their pocketbooks with more taxpayer loot. Naturally Catharine is acting honorably. But honor is not respected in Sacramento. Soon enough she will learn to ‘go along to get along’. Otherwise they will oust her from the nest.

    Oh, and isn’t it special that after being arrested for drunk driving and driving the wrong way down a one-way road in a State owned vehicle that Democrat Ben Hueso was reelected? I wonder what BAC he blew? I would love to see the video of his DUI roadside manual dexterity tests. Did he touch his nose? Did he walk the line? Reduced to “wet reckless”? How funny is that? You folks pull that stunt and try to get such a deal! I would love to talk to the cop who pulled him over and get his side to the story. California voters! Aren’t we a special group? No wonder the other 49 laugh at us! Who could blame them?

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  2. desmond
    desmond 8 December, 2014, 19:30

    Isn’t the protocol to give junior legislators poor office space? Perhaps, she ends up in the hallway. On another topic, the Senate in Sac laid off 39 people.on staff. That is according to De Leon’s numbers four percent of Senate staffing.
    That computes to a current staff of 1037. Ugh. Tax dollars serving us. Bend over, here is another serving.

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    • Timberrrrrr......
      Timberrrrrr...... 8 December, 2014, 19:50

      They do have substandard office space for legislators who buck the system. That’s true. I forget the exact term…but they call it something like “The Hole” or “The Doghouse” …. or something similar. They don’t want divergent thought, especially when to comes to reforming a dirty system that siphons off taxdollars and put it into their pockets. So Catharine might have signed her own termination order here. Per Diem is one of the biggest scams in Sacramento. It is designed to be abused. Catharine has exposed a no-no. The GOP has tremendous power over which party members are reelected. The system has created an electoral system that requires loads of money for a candidate to have a fighting chance. Cut off those funds and it’s instant defeat. My guess is that Catharine made this initial move since it’s most likely part of a campaign promise. So she had to mention it. Now that she’s done that she will shut up and gradually work her way back into the system and collect as much Per Diem as the next guy. And no one will know the difference. Humans have incredibly short memories. The pols know this and use it to their great advantage.

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  3. desmond
    desmond 8 December, 2014, 19:36

    On another topic, I am sick of hearing about De Leon’s 74 year old aunt, and the tough life she had. I hope her Christmas sucks.

    Reply this comment
    • Timberrrrrr......
      Timberrrrrr...... 8 December, 2014, 22:28

      desmond, you sparked my interest about DeLeon’s aunt. So I went and read her vague story. I wonder why she spent her whole life cleaning homes as her chosen occupation? No explanation. Where was she educated? Was it in Mexico by chance? Did she speak fluent english? She must have enjoyed cleaning homes if she did it all her life. There seems to be something here that’s not being told. What held her back from advancing in life? Was she married? Did her husband work? If all she did was clean homes for little pay she had to be entitled to public assistance. However, DeLeon claimed she took none. Why not? No food stamps? No subsidized housing? No free medical care? How did she pay for her medical care as a house cleaning lady and no benefits funded by her clients? DeLeon didn’t explain that. Something’s fishy here. When we only hear snippets of someone’s life coming from the lips of a politician with an agenda there’s reason to be very very suspicious. I would love to have a 15 minute public question and answer period with DeLeon while he’s sworn under oath. I bet I could get to the bottom of this very quickly!!! 🙂

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  4. BarbaraD
    BarbaraD 8 December, 2014, 20:40

    Thank you Assemblywoman Baker! You are setting a good example and let this put the pressure on others! Let’s see who follows your example who live in Sacramento and don’t need the per diem. And don’t cave to the party- make friends with Assemblywoman Grove who is working for her constituents.

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  5. Charlie Schaupp
    Charlie Schaupp 11 December, 2014, 15:29

    I have been screaming about ‘Per Diem’ and ‘free cars’ for years (AKA Senator Jim ‘I live in a Trailer in Gerber’ Nielsen). Good on Baker!!!…The rest (of our esteemed state legislature) get paid enough to by their own damn lunches…and stay in a hotel if they are too far to commute (and only get reimbursed actual lodging expenses)….Just like the military does when they ‘rate’ per diem. That way you only get what you actually spend on a hotel….and not get the $40K+ to pay for a ‘trailer in Gerber’ when you really live near the Capitol!!!!! (In my not so humble opinion)

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