08/19/04 — Absentee pay?: There’s another name for it ...

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Absentee pay?: There’s another name for it ...

North Carolina has a “citizen legislature.” That means our lawmakers do not earn their livings by serving in the General Assembly. This is despite the fact that, in some years, they spend an inordinate amount of their time in Raleigh.

A member of the N.C. House receives a salary of $13,951 a year. Those who serve obviously have to have a private source of income. This is one explanation of why many members of the legislature are retirees or people of considerable means.

It should be noted, however, that when the General Assembly is in session, members receive $104 per day — tax free in most cases — for such things as lodging and transportation.

That notwithstanding, most of our legislators obviously are there out of a genuine desire to serve their constituents and their state and not for the money.

But the attitudes of a few must be a bit disappointing to many among us.

A state House member from Durham missed more than half of the days during the recent session. His explanation was that the demands of his business required him to be away from Raleigh most of them time fellow legislators were tending to state matters.

But the member, Rep. Paul Miller, collected his $104 per diem for the entire session without apology. Another, David Miner of Cary, contended that the salary of a legislator is so low that the per diem is a justifiable supplement whether or not one is present at the State House.

Others insist that while they might not be in the legislative chambers on some days, they can still be serving their constituents in ways other than being involved in the lawmaking process.

Legislators aren’t on a time clock. Their pay is automatic — sent to them whether or not they are attending a session. But some are very careful to return per diem money for days they aren’t in attendance.

That’s the way it should be.

The excuses of those who keep money for days they are absent ring mighty hollow. If these folks need money from the state’s tax coffers to subsist while they’re not working, there’s an established program to provide this.

It’s what we used to call “welfare.”

Published in Editorials on August 19, 2004 1:24 PM