Are Legislators Cheating the System? The Debate Rages On... | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Are Legislators Cheating the System? The Debate Rages On...


Published February 18, 2010 at 1:10 p.m.

Seven Days' recent story on Vermont legislators' liberal use of allowances for meals, mileage and hotels is getting tons of feedback — a lot of it predictably outraged.

The headline asked: "Legislators Admit to Cheating the System. Are They Justified?" Judging from the feedback we got, most readers thought "no."

We ran a full page of letters this week devoted to the question of whether it's unethical — or outright cheating — when lawmakers collect reimbursements for food not eaten, miles not driven and hotel rooms not crashed in.

I also talked about the story on "Inside Seven Days" on RETN last week.

Now the blog Green Mountain Daily and its readers are getting in on the action. Read Odum's post here, and see the responses.

State Rep. David Zuckerman (pictured), a Burlington Progressive, took most of the heat for shining a spotlight on what he says is a serious problem: Legislators are paid so little money that those of modest means can't afford to serve. He suggested raising base pay, but, in lieu of that, says taking advantage of the full "per diem" allowances afforded lawmakers is a way to even out the year-round, and off-season, work legislators don't get reimbursed for.

Zuckerman made the bold admission that he bills for mileage every day he's at the Statehouse, even when he hitches a ride with someone else. How many other lawmakers do the same is unclear — it would probably take polling every one of them — but it's highly unlikely Zuckerman is the only one.

Here's a question for debate: If the current allowance system lets legislators take a flat rate for food ($61 a day), mileage (50 cents a mile) and hotels ($101 a night) — and doesn't require they submit receipts showing the actual costs — then who's to blame, the legislators or the allowance system itself?

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur Photo