HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania legislators collected $3.9 million for work-related expenses for food and lodging during the last two-year session, and the lawmaker who received the most said he was entitled to the $55,495.
"I am not apologizing for per diems," Rep. Dom Costa, D-Allegheny, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in a story published Sunday. "I am not making excuses. It's not a perk. It's part of the job."
Costa said he serves on active committees and he attended dozens of hearings in Philadelphia, where costs are higher than in western Pennsylvania or Harrisburg.
Lawmakers are not required to show receipts for their expenses, and the payments are in addition to their annual base salary, which is $83,802 this year.
Rates for travel in various cities are set by the federal government, and the allowances for daily expenses may be adjusted seasonally. Rates last year for trips to Harrisburg were about $160 a day. For overnight travel to Philadelphia, they were $242 a day.
Information about individual legislators' expenses is difficult to obtain unless they voluntarily make it available. Getting a list requires filing right-to-know requests with the House and Senate.
Last month, Gov. Tom Corbett and legislators unveiled a new website called PennWATCH that was developed under a law designed to promote transparency in state government, but it does not include legislative expenses.
"With PennWATCH being touted as a gateway to accountability, all legislative expenses and expenditures should be listed, including per diems, perks, pensions and travel," said Eric Epstein of the government-reform group Rock the Capital.
Legislators have the option of being reimbursed for specific expenses.
Sen. Randy Vulakovich said he turns in a receipt for his hotel costs of about $70 a night and does not seek reimbursement for his meals.
The Allegheny County Republican said he has no problem with colleagues collecting per diems since the federal government sets the rate and the payments are capped.
"I just think there should be a receipt," Vulakovich said.