Monday, July 5, 2010

More on per diems with Tom Emmer

On Morning Edition last Thursday Cathy Wurzer interviewed Tom Emmer on the campaign trail; one of the subjects they touched on was per diems, which I just posted about last week. When Emmer was asked about the issue he reiterated his stance that per diems be eliminated, along with pensions and health care benefits. That's when Cathy Wurzer called him out.
Cathy Wurzer: As a state lawmaker you have taken these perks, why are you denouncing them now? You've taken advantage of pensions and per diems and that kind of thing.

Tom Emmer: Part of it is when you get to the legislature you've gotta learn how this thing operates and for me it never has been a career so when you say you've taken it, no it was all set up when I got there and if you look at what I've done in my last three four years I was one of two or three legislators that actually brought a lawsuit on the per diem issue and I still think we're right I think the courts handled that wrong, obviously that's done so you've got to go at it a different way, but I'd move to eliminate per diem.
There's a lot contained in that response, but first let's look at the last four years.

While Tom Emmer, lawyer, was filing lawsuits to try and stop increases in per diems, Tom Emmer, legislator, was taking per diems. But we already know this, what is new is the claim that it was all "set up when I got there" so you know, he couldn't be expected to not take the per diems. 

That is a lie.

Per diems are claimed by individual legislators and they can claim whatever they want up to a daily maximum, for the house thats $77. To receive per diem though you have to claim it, nothing about per diems is just "set up" when you arrive in St. Paul. If a legislator receives per diem it's because they filed the paper work to claim it.

So if you were a legislator who had a philosophical problem with per diems, or just didn't want to take them for whatever reason, you could elect not to. But, is there such a person?

That's Rep. Steve Simon (D), 44A and he didn't even collect per diems his first year when Tom Emmer claims "it was all set up" and collected $11,068. And why doesn't Rep. Simon receive per diems? For a very simple reason he told me, "it's a personal decision."

So Tom Emmer could have decided not to take per diems, but he didn't. He took almost $50,000 dollars in six years, apparently all the while not believing in them and filing lawsuits against them.


Now we come back around to why Tom Emmer is calling for getting rid of per diems in the first place; again from that MPR interview (transcribed by me):
Cathy Wurzer: According to a story in the St. Cloud Times last week, you're interested in cutting pensions, health insurance benefits and per diems for law makers and constitutional officers. We did a little research that shows that would only save about $12.7 million over the biennium. What's your thinking behind such a potential move?

Tom Emmer: Well Cathy I'm glad you brought that up because you talk about it in terms of just the budget item it sounds like all we need to do, again, is patch up the budget, find where we're gonna cut and how it's gonna operate, that's not what we're talking about. And with that proposal it's not even about the budget, it's about emphasizing the word service when it comes to public service. This was not supposed to be your career; this was supposed to be serving your state serving your community.

I think the good people of this state that seek elective office, take leave from their private careers and families, they should be compensated. But that compensation should be in the form of a salary or some type of stipend that is very open and transparent so people can see it. Where we've gotten into problems is we've got this per diem that people can change and the general public doesn't know what it is, there's perks that they include, pension benefits and Cadillac health care benefits that the average tax payer does not have access to, that should not be for elected officials.
It's not for budget reasons that Tom Emmer wants to eliminate per diems, it's for a reason much more esoteric, emphasizing the word service in public service. Apparently the budget isn't really that big of an issue. But wait, what was that quote of his again?
Rep. Tom Emmer, a freshman Republican from Delano, said he and the other legislators who claimed per diems have no apologies to make. Emmer, an attorney, said the $1,320 he earned in special session per diems was far less than he would have made in his law practice. 'You're talking to a guy who at 44 years old made a significant personal and financial sacrifice to serve my constituents,' Emmer said.
Oh yeah, that's right, in 2005 Tom Emmer defended his per diems as justified because of the tremendous sacrifices he was making on behalf of his constituents. All the way up until June of this year Tom Emmer has collected per diems, but now in late June, collecting per diems means you don't understand what the word service means in public service.

Stay classy Tom.


Here's the whole interview, it's worth a listen.

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