Calif. lawmaker expense payments flow over holiday

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -  

California lawmakers adjourned Friday for the long holiday weekend, but they will keep getting daily expense payments even while they're not in Sacramento.
 
Lawmakers adjusted their normal schedules to hold floor sessions on Friday and Tuesday to keep qualifying for the per diems. They typically meet Monday and Thursday.
 
Those who live outside the Sacramento area are paid $142 a day for expenses so long as the Legislature does not take a break for more than three days. Switching the schedules will cost taxpayers about $65,000 to cover the four days starting Friday.
 
For most of the Legislature's 120 members, the payments add about $30,000 a year to the nation's highest legislative salaries. California lawmakers are paid a base salary of $90,525 despite taking a 5 percent pay cut this year, though unlike lawmakers in some other states they do not receive pensions.
 
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the schedule swap is justified because members' expenses, like renting a second home in Sacramento, don't disappear when the members leave town.
 
"The per diem is not some, you know, bonus. It's to cover living expenses," said Steinberg, a Democrat who doesn't collect per diem because he lives in Sacramento.
 
He said the payments won't further damage the Legislature's already poor showing in opinion polls. Lawmakers have made tough decisions in recent years that eliminated the state's multibillion budget deficit, he said, actions that should raise their stature.
 
"I feel very good about where the Legislature is right now," he said. "I think our performance speaks for itself."
 
Lawmakers conducted little business during their Friday floor sessions other than honoring the memory of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The Senate also confirmed Gov. Jerry Brown's appointment of Mark Ghilarducci as secretary of the California Emergency Management Agency, unanimously and without debate.
 
They won't start considering legislation for weeks, until bills are introduced and heard in committees.
 
In the meantime, Steinberg said he has begun inviting guests to address senators on the topic of California's future, "so we use our time here on the floor as productively as possible."
 
Sen. Steve Knight, a fiscally conservative Republican from Lancaster, said he has no concerns about extending the per diem payments through the weekend.
 
"The schedule has been like that for as long as I can remember," he said.
 
Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, a newly elected Democrat from Lakewood, had a day of meetings scheduled before heading home.
 
"I think we're all mindful of those perceptions of the taxpayers," Rendon said. "We're reminded often by the speaker and the leadership that we have to be prudent."
 
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