Senate per diem report released for week 4 of special session
State senators Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, accepted a bit less in per diem during the fourth week when compared to the first three weeks of the special session in Olympia, partly because of the Easter holiday.
Benton and Zarelli did not accept the $90 a day living expenses per diem on April 8, which was Easter. Zarelli took $540 in per diem for the remaining six days of the week while Benton took $450 for five days of the week, according to state records.
Benton also did not take his per diem on April 3.
Lawmakers are given up to $90 a day to cover certain living expenses, such as food and lodging, when on official business during special session.
Gov. Chris Gregoire called the special session primarily so a small group of lawmakers could continue to figure out the state’s supplemental operating budget — something they could not agree on during the regular 60-day legislative session that ended March 8. A majority of the session has been “pro forma,” meaning no voting or legislative action took place. Instead, Democratic and Republican legislators involved in the budget process and the governor met privately.
During the fourth week, which ended April 8, 41 senators accepted at least some per diem, which totaled $17,865 for the week. Lawmakers were called back to Olympia late last week in the hopes of voting on a budget agreement.
Zarelli is the ranking Republican member on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and has been involved in the closed-door budget talks. He was the architect of the contentious budget Republicans and three conservative Democrats passed through the Senate near the end of the regular session.
Benton is not on the Senate’s budget committee. Benton has said
he was staying in Olympia during the special session so he could be ready at a moment’s notice once legislation required voting. He also said he attended some caucus briefings and had meetings with lobbyists during the special session.
Benton also has said it’s typical for lawmakers to continue taking the living allowance because the expenses of being in session continue.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, declined to accept per diem for the fourth week in a row. He is on the Senate’s budget committee, but he has not been involved in talks because those typically take place among the committee’s leadership.
Pridemore also has been spending time on the campaign trial. He is running for state auditor this fall.
Thirty-five of the 49 senators accepted at least some per diem during the first three weeks of the special session; their per diem costs totaled more than $33,000. Eight senators, including Benton and Zarelli, accepted the maximum per diem during those first three weeks, meaning they each collected $1,890 during that time.
The Senate per diem reports do not include mileage information.
Senate and House members get an annual salary of $42,106 and are provided with the $90-a-day per diem when on state business.