State Representative Brad Roae (R-Crawford) laughed heartily as he said it:
“When people are being watched more closely, sometimes their behavior changes a little bit.”
But he wasn't joking.
Roae (pronounced Roy) has been watching what he sees as abuse of the per diem system by fellow lawmakers.
He has seen abc27 reports on the subject spotlighting legislators who collect tens of thousands of tax-free extra dollars just for showing up in Harrisburg or at meetings across the state.
He's also aware of the legend of Philadelphia Democrat Mark Cohen, the per diem prince, who collectedly $40,000 in one year. That money is intended a lawmaker's legitimate expenses.
For Cohen to accumulate that princely sum, he claimed cash for non-session days throughout the summer, on weekends and even on holidays.
So Roae has a bill that would eliminate per diems for days when there's no session or committee meetings.
“It seems like an inefficient use of tax money to cover somebody's expenses to be here on those days,” Roae said.
Roae's bill would also prohibit committee hopping. That's a somewhat frequent practice by some lawmakers, including Cohen, where they sign into an unrelated committee hearing, stay five minutes, leave and then put in for a per diem. Roae says that must stop.
“If they're not on that committee and it's not their legislation that the meeting's about, they don't need to be here on a non-session day collecting a per diem,” he said.
Reformers say Roae's bill doesn't go far enough. They want the per diem system scrapped and replaced with one that requires receipts. Lawmakers, they insist, should only get reimbursed for what they actually spend. Republican Dan Moul of Gettysburg supports that idea.
“I come from a business background,” Moul said. “I had to account for all my expenditures and I don't see that lawmakers should be above that.”
Roae agrees. “Should I get more than what my expenses actually are? No.”
So why not offer a tougher “receipt-required” bill? Roae's not sure his brethren, both Republican and Democrat, would support legislation that costs them cash.
“My legislation is a very small step that might reasonably be expected to pass,” Roae said. “A complete elimination of the system probably wouldn't have the votes.”