by Senator Bryce Reeves
While Virginia’s government is experiencing massive budget shortfalls because of the coronavirus pandemic, Democrats in the House of Delegates chose to line their own pockets rather than help their constituents.
On Tuesday, August 18, General Assembly members convened for a special session to address the budget, criminal justice reform, and COVID-19 impacts. Before we gaveled in, Governor Ralph Northam and Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne gave a presentation to both money committees in the General Assembly regarding the fiscal impact the coronavirus has had on our Commonwealth. The conclusion was that Virginia is experiencing a $2.7 billion budget shortfall. And in times like these, every penny counts and should be spent responsibly.
Later that day, Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn decided to conduct the special session through virtual committee meetings and floor sessions. Every single House Democrat voted in favor of this. I don’t love conducting business this way, as it certainly goes against transparency and what our founders intended. While I can understand and respect my colleagues’ argument for virtual meetings, I ultimately disagree with it. That’s why I was happy when the Senate decided to hold in-person floor sessions and in-person committee meetings, with the public being able to testify through video conferencing. We were able to meet while adhering to all CDC guidelines and social distancing standards.
But the most egregious action from the Democrats in the House of Delegates came right after they supported virtual committee meetings and floor sessions. The very next resolution, HR 516, allowed for House of Delegates members to be paid per diem while the special session is ongoing. This resolution resulted in a party-line vote, with 100 percent support from the House Democrats.
The entire purpose of a per diem is to reimburse members for travel, lodging, and meal expenses while they temporarily work in Richmond. According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, “per diem” is Latin for ‘per day’ and refers to payment of a set amount for each day’s expenses for an employee or agent. Typically, a per diem is available only for travel away from home.” A per diem is also not taxed by the government because the funds are supposed to pay for expenses directly. It is also important to note that General Assembly members are paid a part-time salary, are given a budget allotment for office operations (i.e., paper supplies, postage expenses), and are given tablets and computers. These funds are all separate from per diem while in session.
General Assembly members are given a per diem of $210 each day session is convened. Just to hold a special session for seven days, taxpayers fork out $205,800 in per diem costs to 140 General Assembly members. In my opinion, it is outright fraudulent activity to allow House members to collect per diem funds while sitting in the comfort of their own homes. To make matters worse, Virginia can’t afford this type of fraudulent spending while our economy is on the brink.
While we have small businesses on the verge of collapse, and citizens struggling to pay their rent, bills, and mortgage payments, Democratic House members decided that their pocketbook comes first. What a slap in the face to our constituents.
Do not let them try to explain away their misdeeds. House Democrats want you to believe virtual committee meetings and floor sessions are saving the taxpayers money. That isn’t the point. It is fraudulent for House members to collect a per diem, aimed at the reimbursement of expenses, when they don’t have costs sitting at home. If the House Democrats care about budget savings, they should reject their per diem payments. Seven days of fraudulent per diem payments amount to $1,470, more than the average citizen received for their stimulus payment from the Federal Government.
Democrats in the House of Delegates are sanctioning waste, fraud, and abuse, and they should be held accountable by the Virginians who voted for them.
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