Georgia legislators’ expenses don’t follow a common road | jacksonville.com

9
Jun

Georgia legislators’ expenses don’t follow a common road | jacksonville.com

ATLANTA | When it comes to politics, Regina Quick and Ron Stephens are on the same end of the spectrum, but when it comes to claiming expenses from taxpayers, they part ways.

Both are Republican members of the House of Representatives, Quick from Athens and Stephens from Savannah. They often vote alike on major bills.

Regarding expenses, Quick hasn’t claimed any and doesn’t intend to, and Stephens’ claims are among the legislature’s top.

“I think fiscal conservatives should lead by example, so I have tried the treat the taxpayers’ money as if it was my own,” she said, adding that she plans to stick to the practice of absorbing legislative expenses throughout her political career, which just began in January.

On the other hand, Stephens entered office in 1997 and chairs the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee. Last year, he collected $15,312 in mileage and daily compensation for working on legislative business when the General Assembly wasn’t in session, known as “per diem.” He also received $5,498 in reimbursement for expenses, $5,391 of it for transportation.

Stephens sponsors three times the legislation as the average lawmaker, mostly tax incentives for various industries. That requires many meetings in Atlanta year-round and conferences with trade associations.

“The bulk of the things that pass through the Ways and Means Committee are bills I’ve been working on during the year. It’s all things that never end,” he said.

Georgia legislators have two buckets to draw support from besides their $17,342 annual salary and an Atlanta office with a shared secretary: reimbursement and per diem.

The per diem is $173 per day plus mileage, which boosts the figures for those living farthest from Atlanta.

Stephens isn’t alone in racking up per diem charges. Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, collected $13,549 last year and $14,571 so far this year. He chaired the Senate Higher Education Committee last year, which required him to attend meetings in Atlanta of the governor’s commission on higher-education funding.

“I was up there a whole lot last year,” Carter said, adding that the per diem doesn’t cover the $600 daily rate to hire another pharmacist to substitute for him those days.

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