Or; by not traveling 50 miles, Scott Fitzgerald has pocketed $123,376 in per diem allowances from Wisconsin taxpayers over the last nine years.
“I just try not to take advantage of the system,” former Sun Prairie State Assemblyman Tom Hebl told the Associated Press in 2003. During the previous year, Hebl had requested only $1,628 in per diem allowances – by far the lowest in the legislature – but he recognized that not all of his colleagues were so conscientious about their constituents’ tax dollars. “Some people,” Hebl concluded, “believe that they are entitled to it because they’re at the Capitol” (A.P. Wire, Madison, Wisconsin: January 31, 2003).
Lately, no Wisconsin legislator has felt more “entitled to” per diem allowances and has been more willing to “take advantage” of the system than Senator Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican Senate Majority Leader. Over the weekend, it was disclosed that Big Fitz, whose residence in Juneau is barely an hour from the state Capitol building, led all 2011 state legislators in claiming $18,128 in per diem allowances for his “food and lodging” in Madison.
We wondered if 2011 had merely been an anomaly for the conservative lawmaker, who might have felt compelled to hole up in his office at the State Capitol due to the tumultuous events that have convulsed Madison since last February. Upon examining Wisconsin Senate per diem reports for the past nine years, however, we feel that it is safe to say that Big Fitz has always been near the front (or at the front) of the line in claiming the state’s generous $88/day in per diem allowances.
Scott Fitzgerald has established a clear pattern of abusing the reimbursement system; he has shown no qualms about greedily stuffing his pockets with the money of Wisconsin’s hard-working taxpayers; and, over the last nine years, he has brazenly run up the largest per diem tab of any state lawmaker, despite working a mere 50 miles from where he lives. Put simply, since 2003, the citizens of Wisconsin have paid Big Fitz $123,376 to not travel the short distance between his office in Madison and his house in Juneau.
Senator Fitzgerald has been remarkably consistent in seeking outsized reimbursements even though his residence is a mere 25 miles from the Dane County line. In every year since 2003, he has ranked among the top eight senators in collecting per diem allowances. (As an aside, the legislature’s per diem allowances are in addition to mileage reimbursements of 48.5 cents per mile, which lawmakers can use to fund the actual travel between their districts and Madison. So, it is likely that Big Fitz has received another pot of taxpayer money from this fund, as well.)
In 2003 and 2005, Senator Fitzgerald was relatively reserved and placed number eight (out of 33 senators) on the annual “Per Diem Ranking Report.” In each of the other seven years, however, he ranked among the top four in per diem allowances. In 2008, he won the per-diem bronze medal; in 2009, he won the per-diem silver medal; and, in each of the last two years, Big Fitz has won the per-diem gold medal, receiving more money for “food and lodging” in Madison than any other state legislator. Maybe if we built a train between Madison and Juneau, Senator Fitzgerald would be able to return home more frequently!
Since the economic downturn in 2008, Big Fitz has really cashed in with his per diems. In both 2008 and 2009, he collected 65% more in “food and lodging” allowances than the average Wisconsin senator, and in 2010, his per diem tab of $16,544 was a whopping 120% more than the average senator’s reimbursment of $7,537.33. The complete 2011 “Per Diem Ranking Report” has not yet been released, but his 2011 bill of $18,218 was the highest per diem request since 2003, and it will assuredly end up being significantly larger than most of his colleagues.
(We have uploaded copies of all of the Wisconsin Senate “Per Diem Ranking Reports” from 2003-2010, if you would like to see the raw numbers.)
Back in October, when the GOP-controlled legislature enacted a new state compensation plan that included no raises for public employees for the next two years, Big Fitz justified the decision, by saying: “There are 240,000 people out of work in Wisconsin, and they aren’t getting automatic pay raises either.” You know what else the unemployed or state workers or, well, pretty much all other workers in the state of Wisconsin aren’t getting these days, Senator Fitzgerald? Access to an extravagant per diem system that grants a tax-free $88 per day, $18,128 per year, and $123,376 per nine years for a job that is 50 miles from their homes.
If you thought Big Fitz couldn’t bilk the state’s taxpayers any more, be sure to read this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story from 2007, which detailed legislators’ practice of “double dipping.” According to the article, Senator Fitzgerald was one of 15 state lawmakers, who “tapped their campaign accounts to pay for meals and hotels on days they also received [per diem] payments from taxpayers for the same purposes.” That’s right, according to the JS’s investigative reporters, Big Fitz “spent hundreds of dollars” on meals with campaign money and then turned around and also billed taxpayers for per diems.
Senator Fitzgerald’s bizarre defense of his shameful actions was simply: “Per diem is per diem. It’s always going to be open to scrutiny.” You’re damn right it’s going to be open to scrutiny – especially when you stick taxpayers with a nine-year bill of $123,376! (Of course, it is difficult to actually scrutinize the expense allowances of state legislators, since they do not need to provide receipts or any other evidence to claim per diems.)
Inquiring minds want to know: has Big Fitz continued his practice of double dipping? Did he receive double reimbursements from the state and from his campaign during the 2010 election season? Does he plan on double-billing during the upcoming recall election?
There is such loose oversight and lax regulation of legislators’ expense reporting that Senator Fitzgerald has broken no laws with his profligate per diems. He has, however, exposed himself as a breathtakingly shameless and arrogant hypocrite, who abuses privileges and thumbs his nose at the citizens of Wisconsin.
Despite filling his pockets with an ever-increasing amount of taxpayer per diem money over the past nine years, Senator Fitzgerald has consistently lectured Wisconsin’s citizens about the necessity of severe austerity measures and shared sacrifices. At every opportunity, he preaches about runaway government spending and the need for fiscal responsibility and self-reliance. He demonizes Wisconsinites who rely on the government for assistance, and he attacks “broken” programs of “government handouts.”
Where is your fiscal responsibility, Senator Fitzgerald? Where are your personal austerity measures? Where is your shared sacrifice? While the country and the state’s economy have been ravaged by a deep recession, you have have increasingly kept your hand out to the state’s taxpayers, and, over the last nine years, you have brazenly stuffed your pockets with $123,376 of per diem allowances ostensibly to provide you with “food and lodging” in Madison even though you reside 50 miles from the State Capitol.
In FitzWalkerstan, sacrifice is only for the taxpayers and not for the political leaders. In FitzWalkerstan “government handouts” are only “broken” when they go to to the poor and the needy.
Senator Fitzgerald, over the past nine years, you have shamelessly billed the people of the great state of Wisconsin $123,376 to support your one-hour commute that covers 50 miles. You have also just given the people of your district 123,376 reasons to Recall Fitz.
NOTE: The State Assembly has a rule limiting members to per diem claims for only 153 days. The State Senate has no similar rule, so senators like Big Fitz routinely outpace their Assembly colleagues in pocketing taxpayer per diem money.