Sunday, January 26, 2003

Expense claims of Oklahoma lawmakers

Justin Juozapavicius, a writer for the Tulsa World, has researched the travel and per diem claims by Legislators and found that quite a few have regularly filed claims for reimbursement for days they were on record as not being at the Capitol. According to the frontpage story in the World today, 66 state senators and representatives collected on days they were not present. The World estimates this cost the taxpayers $22,000. Now we all know that newspapers are not, by any means, always correct or even mostly correct, but Juozapavicius' investigation raises questions that need to be pursued to a conclusion.

Can't you just imagine the outcry from Legislators if an investigation had found that state workers were filing claims for non-existent travel or getting paid for work when they were not at work? The politicians would (correctly) be demanding the state workers be fired and punished, whichever came first. What do you want to bet that this little expose about some of their members' behavior gets buried right away? I'd say chances are very good the Legislature does nothing at all to police its own.

The World story points out that Oklahoma Legislators are paid very well by national standards - $38,400 a year. In neighboring Arkansas their lawmakers make $12,769 a year. I'm not going to be critical on this point however. Many lawmakers actually work year-round and pretty darn hard. They'd have to pay me more than $38,000 a year to have to go to receptions, neighborhood meetings, and the myriad other political events they have to endure. But for $38,000 a year we ought to be getting top-flight representatives - and that's not always the case. Some should be paying us.

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