Friday, February 5, 2010
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Checking In for Pay; Checking Out of Reality
By JON COUPAL
How would you like to go to work at 9 a.m., wave to your boss and say “Hi, I’m here. Bye,” and then immediately turn around, walk out the door and go home or play a round of golf—and, here’s the best part, still get a paycheck instead of being fired? And suppose to make it easier on you, you could just drive by your place of employment and check in at the curb?
If this does not sound like your job, you are not alone. This describes the work of a small minority of Californians—120 lucky folks—who, before every long weekend, go through this tedious routine to assure themselves of $567.84 in additional pay. And since the total obligation of time is about five minutes, it works out to about $6,814.08 if the rate is applied to a full hour of work.
So how do these 120 privileged individuals pull this off? Here is their trick: They are members of the state Legislature and they make their own rules.
Although lawmakers received a pay cut from the Compensation Commission at the beginning of the year, they are still the highest paid legislators in all 50 states, and they know how to game the system to guarantee that the money keeps flowing. In addition to their nearly six-figure salaries, lawmakers receive a tax-free allotment of $141.86 per day to compensate for the cost of living in Sacramento while performing their jobs. However, if they go more than four days without meeting, they lose this bonus, and so, to make sure they get this generous stipend while enjoying a long weekend, they have a “check-in” session on the day before. As was described by the Sacramento Bee, the process “…can be as simple as driving through the parking garage in the Capitol basement and checking in momentarily with a Sergeant of their house.”
Although this practice has been going on for decades and is embraced by members from both political parties, it finally made news when someone leaked an e-mail from the office of Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg that was sent to Senate members urging them to show up and check in on Friday before Martin Luther King Day, so that all could collect their per-diem payments over the long holiday weekend.
Now, California is a big state, almost 800 miles from Crescent City to Chula Vista, and few taxpayers expect lawmakers to go through a daily commute from far flung home districts to Sacramento. But what is galling is that while many Californians are suffering severe financial hardship, members of the Assembly and Senate are checking in at work to do nothing but assure themselves of “walking-around money” for a long weekend.
Lawmaker abuse of these “check-in” sessions for the sole purpose of collecting their per diem is just one of many stories that contribute to the public’s disdain for our elected state representatives. Recent polls show the approval rate for the Legislature at a near all-time low of 16 percent. This means that 84 percent of Californians do not have a positive view of its performance. And it’s a safe bet, considering our 12.4 percent unemployment, record foreclosure rates and crushing tax burden, that many of those who do not approve of the Legislature actually despise it as a self-serving body that has no sympathy for the concerns of its constituents.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company