Delegates Receive $8,651 Average in Per Diems from 2021 Sessions

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Members of the Virginia House of Delegates earn $17,640 per year and a per diem of $211 while in session, including days off during the session. The per diem is meant to help legislators pay for housing costs ($145/day) and food ($66/day) while in Richmond, but legislators have continued accepting the per diem even during the virtual house sessions of 2021 and 2020. For the 2021 sessions alone, that added up to an average total per diem per delegate of $8,651 — over $800,000 for all 100 delegates, according to reporting by The Virginian-Pilot.

In the 2020 special session, Republican delegates announced they would decline the per diem, and criticized Democrats for continuing to accept the per diem. During the 2021 sessions, the Pocahontas building was open to legislators, leading some to stay in Richmond during the sessions. As a result, some Republicans accepted the per diem, and some didn’t.

Unlike during the 2020 special session, per diem income from the 2021 sessions will be taxable. Legislators also receive a taxable $1,250 monthly office allowance, for a total $15,000 per year. Legislators who live closer to Richmond get a smaller per diem than out of town legislators.

Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) accepted the per diem in the 2021 sessions. “At least for me, I actually got a place to stay during the General Assembly session here in Richmond, even though it was held virtually,” he said.

Miyares said many other legislators did the same thing, but he said that it was predominantly Republican legislators that he saw in person around the capitol.

“It’s kind of a different scenario than what we were facing this past summer when you know, I guess it was August through November, it was a couple days on, couple days off, everything was done remotely,” he said.

Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) refused the per diem on behalf of his caucus during the 2020 special session.

Miyares said, “The Democrats all took the per diem even though nobody was paying for room and board.”

The 2020 special session lasted much longer than the two 2021 sessions. The two 2021 sessions together lasted 46 days. The 2020 special session lasted from mid-August until the beginning of November — about three months.

“We were quickly changing from being a part-time legislature to a full-time legislature,” Miyares said.

He argued that the part-time nature of the legislature is important for democratic principles, and forces legislators to live in the same communities with the same jobs as their constituents.

“We are designed to be a part-time legislature. I think that is actually a good thing. We’re designed to live like normal human beings when we’re not in the legislature,” he said.

Miyares said that it’s not realistic for legislators to try to attend their day jobs during a session, even virtual sessions.

Bacon’s Rebellion writer James Bacon called the per diem a “hidden pay raise” on his site in January. He argued that maybe delegates do need a legitimate pay raise — they haven’t had one since 1988. He warned that paying too little would effectively block average citizens from being able to run for the office.

Miyares said that it’s not realistic for legislators to try to attend their day jobs during a session, even virtual sessions.

“It’s full time, whether in Zoom, whether in person,” he said.

Miyares said, “At least from my perspective, you don’t make money in this job. You’re making $17,000 a year, and for two months you can’t take on new clients, meet with existing clients. But listen. It’s a citizen legislator. In my opinion it should be a sacrifice to serve, because that’s the way it was designed.”

“I have no doubt people probably used [the per diem] to help compensate for the fact that they can’t work for two months, but the purpose of the per diem is to cover room and board,” Miyares said.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “House of Delegates” by Germanna CC. CC BY 2.0.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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