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Lawmakers say no change to per diem system

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Wisconsin legislative leaders say they will not change the way lawmakers are reimbursed for their personal expenses even though critics call it double-dipping.

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They average about $9,000 a year from taxpayers who cover their room and board for every day they spend in Madison, even if it's just for a half-hour meeting.

On those same days, legislators can also get reimbursed by their campaigns for their costs of doing political things which are not state business.

Watchdog Jay Heck of Common Cause says it's "the height of arrogance" for lawmakers to be reimbursed twice when taxpayers are losing their jobs and a lot of their retirement funds.

Thomas Cane, who chairs the state's Government Accountability Board, says the practice is not illegal, something Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, points out.

But Cane said the public's confidence in the Legislature would grow if leaders would reform their per-diem system.

Decker says lawmakers have both state and political duties, and everyone is best served when we all know how much legislators get reimbursed for each.

But Heck says nobody in the real world gets a full day's pay for an hour of work.

But that's exactly what happens when a lawmaker does state business for just a few minutes and qualifies for the daily reimbursement set at $88 a day, and $44 for Dane County lawmakers.

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