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December 13, 2012 | By | Posted in WatchBlog

WATCHBLOG: State Senator collects $30K in per diems while renting living space in Harrisburg

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – Almost all residents of Pennsylvania have to make monthly rental or mortgage payments for their places of residency.

But for a select few, those monthly costs are simply put on the taxpayers’ tab.

The Observer-Reporter of Washington County reports this morning that state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Washington, and state Rep. Paul Costa, D-Allegheny, share a residence in Harrisburg that the two men own through an LLC they established in 2011.

According to the Observer-Reporter, Solobay and Costa share a residence at 1616 Green Street, less than one mile from the state capitol. Per diems are only available to lawmakers who live more than 50 miles away.

There’s nothing wrong with lawmakers buying property, of course, but now that the two men have a residence located just blocks from the state capitol, you’d think they would have no need to collect per diems – the daily payments of more than $150 available to lawmakers whose homes are more than 50 miles from the capitol.  The payments are intended to cover the costs of travel and lodging.

But Solobay is still happily riding the per diem train, the newspaper reports:

Solobay earned nearly $30,000 in per diem reimbursement payments between December 2011 and December 2012. This sum does include travel and lodging expenses, as well as food stipends. At least two conferences, in State College and Philadelphia, required lodging out of the Harrisburg area….

…“I gotta sleep somewhere,” Solobay said. “It’s just a living arrangement where we’re at.”

Solobay said at this point, he and Costa are the only two using the residence and that at no point was anybody in the partnership in it to make money….

…There is nothing illegal in the practice of politicians owning a second property in Harrisburg. While the state has rules against legislators whose main residences are within a 50-mile radius of the capital receiving per diem travel reimbursement, there are no restrictions barring politicians from receiving payments if they own a second house in the area.

During the legislative session, lawmakers can collect up to $158 per day, while they can get $185 per day on non-session days.  The per diems are meant to offset expenses, but lawmakers are not required to submit receipts or justify the costs in any way – though many do voluntarily submit receipts.

Governmental watchdogs say the system is ripe for abuse due to the lack of oversight.

An example of such abuse?  Taxpayers shelled out more than $54,000 in 2011 for per diem payments to 123 lawmakers for work on weekends, when the legislature is not in session.

Contact Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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