Legislators Trim Office Expenses

August 25, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — In a legislative year characterized by budget slashing, Carroll's state legislators managed to shave more than $6,000 off their personal and office expenses paid by taxpayers.

The six-member Carroll delegation spent a combined $80,372 during the 1990-1991 legislative yearfor General Assembly-related expenses, such as lodging, travel, food, clerical assistance and office supplies and equipment, an average of $13,395 each.

The cost to the public, which foots the bill so expenses don't eat into lawmakers' $27,000 annual salaries, represents a 7 percent decrease compared to the $86,515 the delegation spent the previous year on legislative business. In 1988-89, the delegation spent $76,271.

The legislative accounting year runs from July 1 to June 30.

Sen.Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, the only new legislator from Carroll, accounted for much of the savings by being more thrifty in his first year than his predecessor, Sharon W. Hornberger. Haines spent $11,934, a $3,762 decrease compared to the $15,696 Hornberger spentin 1989-1990.

Haines began his term in December, as did Hornberger in 1989 when she was appointed to fill a vacancy.

Four other Carroll legislators decreased their spending by between $397 and $960 compared to last year. Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, was the only one to increase his spending, by $458 from $24,251 to $24,709.

Another reason for the decrease was legislators made fewer out-of-state trips than the previous year. Only LaMotte journeyedoutside Maryland's borders on legislative business, attending the National Conference of State Legislatures in Nashville, Tenn., last August. He attends the conference annually. In fiscal 1990, three Carroll legislators made out-of-state trips.

LaMotte, who is Maryland's House of Delegates representative on NCSL's Environment Committee, spent $1,059 at the week-long conference for lodging, food and travel.

"Last summer was an election year. I'm sure that was a primary reason there weren't too many trips," said Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll. "Budget restraint also had an impact."

As of Jan. 9, legislators were allowed $90 per day for food and lodging -- $5,760 for the 64 weekdays of the session. The maximum daily allowance for meals was $35. Legislators were reimbursed 24 cents per mile, with no mileage limit.

Delegates were allocated $17,007 for office expenses, senators $18,265. The unused portion of the allowance is returned to state coffers.

For the third consecutive year, LaMotte had the biggest tab, spending $24,709. The bulk of that -- $15,775 -- went toward office help. He employed a legislative aide and a secretary, who bothworked part-time during the nine-month interim and full-time during the three-month legislative session. LaMotte employed an intern during the session for $750.

"You get what you pay for," said LaMotte. "I'm interested in providing good constituent service. The only way to do that is to have people help you do it.

"For the quality of staff I have, what they receive in salary is outrageously low. I'm fortunate to have them," LaMotte said.

Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, was the most frugal of the delegation for the third straight year, spending $8,241. At $2,077, his office expenses were less than half that of each of the other five legislators.

"I just spend what I have to spend," he said. "I've been pretty much that way for the last several years."

Several legislators noted that expense tabs vary depending on the number of committees on which lawmakers serve. For example, Dixon and Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, each serve on several budget subcommittees, which have frequent meetings during the interim. Senators generally get more committee assignments since they are outnumbered by delegates, 141 to 47.

For example, Smelser spent $1,669 conducting non-session business, while Delegate Richard C. Matthews, a House Judiciary Committee member, spent $37.

LaMotte spent $4,500 to rent a residence duringthe session, the highest of the Carroll legislators. Dixon spent $4,180 and Elliott $4,095 to rent hotel rooms for the session. Smelser rented a residence for $2,850.

Matthews was the only Carroll legislator to commute consistently to Annapolis. Consequently, he ran up the highest mileage tab, $1,613, and the lowest lodging bill, $771.

"I started in the legislature back in the 1960s when you didn't get big expense accounts," said Matthews, a 25-year delegate from Hampstead. "You had to live in Frederick or west to get reimbursed."

The 60-mile trip takes him one hour and 10 minutes, he said.

"I can think on the road. It's just my style," he said.

Matthews joked that some legislators who stay in Annapolis for the session arrive at worklater than he does because "they partake in luxuries around town andstay out late."

Haines began the session by commuting most days from his Westminster home, but decided by the midway point to take up lodging in Annapolis because workdays were too grueling to make the 122-mile round trip.

At $399, Haines spent by far the least on foodduring the session by snacking for lunch and taking advantage of receptions for dinners.

Haines spent $2,142 to rent a Westminster district office, $2,262 for computer equipment and $762 to purchase U.S.and Maryland flags, which he presented to Eagle Scouts, schools and families of military servicemen and firefighters.

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