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Wisconsin Senate chamber file photo

The Wisconsin Senate chamber

State lawmakers claimed more than $1.1 million in reimbursement for working in the Capitol in 2013, a hefty increase from 2012 that was consistent with past non-election year amounts.

In 2012, the average living expense, or per diem, claimed for each Assembly district was $5,575. That average amount rose more than 55 percent in 2013 to $8,672. In the same period, claims by state senators rose by a third, with the average senator taking in $9,230 in 2013.

Per diems are meant to cover food and lodging costs while lawmakers are in Madison doing state business. Those who live in Dane County can claim $44 a day while those from outside Dane County receive $88 a day. The amounts are on top of legislators’ nearly $50,000 annual salary.

While the 33 members of the Senate claimed a total of $304,585 in 2013, the 101 representatives who served in the Assembly in 2013 claimed $858,480, for a total of $1.16 million. In 2012, the total claimed by both chambers of the Legislature was $780,314.

Between 2007 and 2010, per diem expenditures averaged $1.18 million in odd-numbered years and $872,000 in even-numbered years, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. There are fewer session days held in even-numbered years because of elections.

Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, saw the biggest jump in per diem pay, receiving $10,648 in 2013 after promising during the 2010 campaign not to claim any per diems.

“We need to cut legislative per diems,” Krug told the State Journal in 2010. “My first spending cut is promising not to collect one cent of (legislative) per diem money ever.”

He kept that promise in 2011 and 2012 but said in an interview last week he didn’t intend the promise to extend beyond his first term. He also said he was in the Capitol a lot more in 2013, meeting with legislators, negotiating with trade groups and heading up the Assembly Children and Families Committee.

“It might have been a slip to say ‘ever,’ but my intention was to help out in a tough budget time,” Krug said. “I try to help people understand I’m not getting extra salary; it’s reimbursements for travel.” Krug said he hasn’t heard anyone complaining about

the cost of per diem payments to taxpayers. Of the three legislators who didn’t take any per diems in 2012, he said, he was the only one re-elected.

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“Two of them were voted out because there was a perception they weren’t doing their job,” Krug said.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, claimed the most days of any lawmaker last year at 243, and received $10,692. He said he doesn’t claim mileage reimbursement for in-district travel, which is a separate amount from per diem payments. Unlike some lawmakers, who have separate district offices, Erpenbach’s district office and Capitol office are the same.

“It’s just easier to do per diem and not claim any mileage per district,” Erpenbach said. “A lot of these guys have big Senate districts. If they’re not taking per diem, they’re probably claiming mileage. I just don’t.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, had the highest per diem compensation for the second year in a row, receiving $16,544 for 188 days claimed.

Spokesman Dan Romportl said members of leadership typically have more responsibilities that require them to be in Madison, resulting in more per diem claims.

In the Assembly, former majority leader Scott Suder, who resigned in September and became a lobbyist, got the most in such payments, receiving $13,288 from the state.

Of the 103 lawmakers who were in office in both 2012 and 2013, all but 11 increased the amount they claimed in per diem expenses.

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, the longest-serving legislator in the United States, was one of the 11 whose expenses went down in 2013. He also had the second-most days claimed at 206.

“I am in my Senate office practically every workday of the year meeting with constituents, taking walk-in visitors, meeting with legislators and receiving international visitors from all over the world,” Risser said. “My constituents expect me to be accessible to them. It is my opinion that whether it is an election year or not, my duties as a legislator remain the same and it is my privilege to represent my constituents as I have been elected to do.”

On average, Democrats claimed slightly more in per diems than Republicans. The average Democratic lawmaker claimed 116 days for $8,759 in 2013, while the average Republican claimed 100 days and $8,626. In 2012, the average Democrat claimed 83 days and the average Republican claimed 63.

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Contact data reporter Nick Heynen at nheynen@madison.com or 608-252-6126; contact reporter Matthew DeFour at mdefour@madison.com or 608-252-6144.

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