Monkey Business Report: NCGA per diem edition

Hang around state politics enough and you’re bound to hear whining about how little our legislators are compensated.

According to state law, rank-and-file legislators (not in leadership) get paid $13,951 per year plus $559 per month for expenses.  What you hear a lot less about are the per diem payments ($104 per day) plus mileage (0.29 cents per) on top of that.

That part has us intrigued.  So, thanks to a public records request — and the yeoman’s work by Haymaker super-fan Tim Martin — we have our hands on a whole lot of official internal General Assembly files detailing the disbursement of per diem and mileage payments to members.

A member of The Haymaker inner circle jogged my memory about this particular comment posted on our site last year:

So, of course, that prompted me to move Steinburg to the top of my list for review.

According to official records, Steinburg — in his six years in Raleigh — has collected $102,036.58 in per diem and mileage.  That’s a yearly average of $17,006 above and beyond his $13,951 salary and $559 per month “expense” allowance.

Another interesting find in Steinburg’s records was how often he was disbursed per diem in chunks of $728 (7 days x $104).  That appeared to be a rare occurrence among legislators.  So, I asked a former legislator about it.  This source told me:

“Seven days?  If you’re claiming seven days of per diem at a time, I’m sorry — pardon my French — but you’re full of crap. Nobody over there is working seven days a week.  Nobody.”

Per diem is meant to pay for meals for legislators while they are working in session in Raleigh.  My ex-legislator source told me there are some cases where legislators working on the budget near the deadline, or other important projects like redistricting (and responding to redistricting lawsuits) would get extra per diem.  

My source said the per diem is usually automatically disbursed when the House is in session.  But one would have to specifically request a seven-day lump-sum payment.

The official legislative calendar  shows nothing scheduled for either chamber for January 13-15 of 2018.  Yet, Steinburg collected $104 per diem for each of those days.

Steinburg collected per diem for January 17 ($104) and per diem / travel  ($104 / $80.28) for January 18.  The official calendar showed the only business for those days were committee meetings that were cancelled.  The official legislative web site shows there was no action on any bills in either chamber those days.

The week of January 25th – Steinburg collected $728, indicating seven days of work.  According to the legislative calendar, the House was only in session January 25 and January 29.

The committee he chairs, Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission,  had a meeting scheduled on January 30.

For February, it appears he claimed per diem for 22 days worked.   

Steinburg claimed $728 in per diem on 2/1, 2/8 and 2/15.   (He claimed $104 plus mileage on 2/21.)  The House was in session on February 1,5,7,8,9,12 and 13.

He had committee meetings on February 6, 15, and 21.  There was no House business on Feb. 28.  Committees met on February 22, 26, and 27 but did not include any committees he is assigned to.    

That’s ten days of actual verifiable legislative work for him in February 2018.   There were eight weekend days with no legislative business.   The calendar shows only 16 days with scheduled legislative business for either chamber.

If he worked every possible work day in the month, that would be 20 days.  He took per diem pay for 22.  

We also found signs of this type of thing in 2017.

According to the legislative calendar for February 2017, the House was in session for a total of fifteen days.  Steinburg took per diem pay for 28 that month. 

General Assembly records show he took $728 on Feb. 2, 9, 16, and 23.

The House was in session on Feb. 1, 2, 6,7,8,9,13,14,15,16,20,21,22,23, and 27.  (Steinburg missed all votes on 2/23.)

So, at most, it looks like he was there for verifiable official business on 13 days in February 2017.  But took per diem for 28.