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How Much Did Lawmakers Spend On Food, Lodging And Other Perks? A New Investigation Says $50 Million A Year

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Governor Tom Wolf
/
Flickr

On today’s program: State lawmakers were reimbursed $200 million in per diem expenses over the last four years, but what they spent it on is hard to track because of a lack of transparency; the deputy manager of the County Elections Division explains why they expect ballot counting for Tuesday’s election to go smoother than November last year; and Pittsburgh-based writer Brian Broome previews his debut memoir “Punch Me Up to the Gods.”

Some state lawmakers spent thousands in daily expenses with little oversight
(0:00 — 6:27)

Pennsylvania’s taxpayer dollars cover lodging, transportation, meals and other perks for lawmakers and staff. An investigation by The Caucus and SpotlightPA found this bill adds up to about $50 million every year.

“Pennsylvania law that, of course, they wrote and passed allows them to collect that money without providing any receipts, which is different than a lot of other states,” says Mike Wereschagin, an investigative reporter for The Caucus. “A lot of people in the private sector might be familiar with how per diems work. Usually if you want to be reimbursed for something, you have to say, these were my expenses, here are the receipts.”

The investigation found Representatives Chris Sainato (D., Lawrence) and Mark Longietti (D., Mercer) expensed about $230,000 each from 2017 to 2020, a staggering amount compared to their peers, and in addition to their $90,000 salaries.

Wereschagin says only 17 members in the House and 11 members in the Senate make their spending public. Finding the expenses of other lawmakers required numerous right-to-know requests and sifting through thousands of documents.

“A lot of what we did was kind of a painstaking process of stripping that information out of those PDFs, putting them into a more easily digestible format, and then creating a first-of-it’s kind database of all of this spending,” says Wereschagin. The final database consists of 400,000 records documenting about $200 million in spending.

Wereschagin says The Caucus and SpotlightPA are planning to publish more stories in the months to come. These stories will look into specific legislative offices.

County Elections Division is ready for the Primary
(6:29 — 9:59)

The Allegheny County Elections Division warehouse is making preparations for tabulating all of the ballots cast during tomorrow’s Primary Election.

“What we learned in November is that we just need to tighten up some of the logistics, honestly,” says Chet Harhut, Allegheny County deputy manager of the Elections Division. “With the lower turnout, we think things are going to be very successful on Election Day.”

Harhut says these changes largely impact how they process absentee and mail-in ballots, which requires multiple steps to open and get into a tabulator.

Last fall the Elections Division received 344,000 mail-in ballots. Harhut says this election, the division only received 120,000 applications for absentee ballots.

He also doesn’t expect a delay in publishing voter results because ballots have to be received by 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

Writer Brian Broome reflects on memoir ahead of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures talk
(10:02 — 18:00)

Writer Brian Broome grew up in small-town Ohio, and moved to Pittsburgh around 1990. His debut memoir, “Punch Me Up to the Gods,” chronicles his struggles with racism, homophobia, and drugs and alcohol.

90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll spoke with Broome, who will appear in a free, virtual Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures event Tuesday.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
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