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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri and Illinois governors get no 'per diem' for working outside the capital

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 12, 2008-  Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt is slated to earn $133,820 this fiscal year (up from $120,087 in 2007); Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich made $155,600 last year.

States provide a comfortable residence in the state capital, the city where the primary business of governing presumably takes place. Citizens pay for the governors' travel costs for official state business. But should citizens also foot the bill for expenses that can fairly be characterized as relating to a lifestyle choice, such as working from a privately owned residence in the executive's hometown, instead of the official office in the capitol?

This question arises because of reports about the expense practices of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The Alaska governor (annual salary: $125,000) was criticized by some Democrats for billing her state's taxpayers for more than 300 nights she spent at her home in Wasilla. Palin received a $60 "per diem" expense allowance for each day claimed because her official "duty station" is listed as Juneau. She also charged the state for numerous 600-mile trips between Wasilla and Alaska's capital.

According to The New York Times, the practice of billing for staying at home is unusual and not allowed in many states.

That's true in Missouri, where the rule is that "if your resident city is in some place other than the city of your official domicile you are not allowed expenses while in your resident city or mileage for travel between your resident city and the city of official domicile." The policy also says that "any additional travel expense incurred because you reside in a place other than the official domicile is not eligible for reimbursement." In short, there is no per diem allowed for the Missouri governor.

Rich Chrismer, a spokesman for Blunt, said that the governor abides by these per diem rules. Larry Schepker, Missouri's commissioner of administration, said the state requires that security officials accompany the governor during travel. If Blunt is traveling from Springfield to Jefferson City, Schepker said, he's often being driven by highway patrol.

That means the governor wouldn't have his own travel expenses, though the state bills out for the trips made by the patrol. Chrismer said Blunt generally spends weekdays in Jefferson City and travels to Springfield, where he has a home, two to three weekends a month.

In Illinois, Katie Ridgway, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said the governor doesn't take a per diem  when he travels or for time spent in Chicago, where he lives.

Questions, though, have been raised about his travel expenses. Blagojevich is known to fly from Chicago to Springfield and back in one day, and the Associated Press has reported that those trips cost taxpayers thousands of dollars a day.

Blagojevich aides have argued that the governor considers Chicago to be his headquarters, so any trip out of Chicago is a legitimate business flight. But the AP has reported that tax experts say the Internal Revenue Service may well consider Springfield the governor's headquarters.

Elia Powers is a freelance journalist. 

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