Ex-senator’s expense request shows need for policy

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — To the loser goes the spoils?

That’s how former state Sen. Truman Chafin’s request for some per-diem expenses he racked up as a lawmaker looked this week.

It’s not so much the fact that he waited almost six months after he lost his election before filing this request.

Nor was it the total — more than $34,000 — he’s requesting to be reimbursed for his travel, food, lodging, etc. that he accounted for while a lawmaker.

We ’ll even overlook what’s probably most disconcerting: Those expenses date back to 2011.

But what we cannot fathom is why there are no policies to prevent lawmakers from cashing in in this manner.

Apparently, that might change, but of course, only after the fact.

According to the state Senate clerk, his office doesn’t even review these expense reports and simply passes them on to the legislative auditor’s office for approval.

There’s also no requirement that the filing of expense reports be done in a timely manner, say for example, in the same fiscal year.

State legislators earn a base pay of $20,000 per year and are entitled to additional compensation for days at the Capitol and travel expenses.

On top of the base pay, legislators earn $150 per day for extended and special sessions. Certain legislative officers and committee chairs are allowed an additional $150 per day for specified business.

Legislators who travel to Charleston for sessions can claim $131 per diem (per day), or $55 per diem if they commute.

Legislators may also claim travel expenses, and, of course, there are perks with the job — many legislators enjoy free lobbyist-sponsored meals.

In August 2013 we reported the top 2012 earners in the state Senate and the low earner.

You might not ever guess it, but that low earner then was Chafin, who earned only $23,000 in his lawmaker’s guise that year. Of course, he’s a successful attorney in his other life.

Among 18 local members of the Senate and House of Delegates in 2012, all but two fell within an annual salary range of $22,000 to $25,000. Their travel reimbursements ran in the $13,000 to $17,000 range.

To the credit of many, they do not avail themselves of every dime they are entitled to in per-diem expenses.

It would not surprise us if a few of the 134 lawmakers game the system, too.

But what we didn’t suspect was that the Legislature has no policies to ensure expenses are valid and filed in a timely fashion. That needs to change immediately. 

To the taxpayer goes the accountability.

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