By Len Lazarick
The 150-page report of the General Assembly Compensation Commission released last month contains gobs of interesting data about how the legislature operates and compares to those in other states, even while it recommended no raise for lawmakers during the next four years.
One of the more interesting factoids is that last year more than four out of five legislators (82%, 155 senators and delegates) took 100% of the daily per diem meal limit. This is a bit surprising since there are receptions and lobbyist-paid committee dinners virtually every night of the week.
For instance, since Thursday, when the most recent Notice of Legislative Unit Invitations to Meals and Receptions (available in print but not online) came out, there were six receptions to which all 188 members were invited, and a total of 12 receptions for the week.
There were also seven dinners to which whole committees and county delegations were invited, with the pricey Ruth’s Chris Steak House the most popular destination. There are many more receptions and dinners scheduled in the weeks to come, though they tend to peter out toward the end of session.
There are two and possibly three explanations for this abundance of food and drink. One, lobbyists and the organizations they represent, from the Maryland Dermatological Society and Soil Conservation Districts to the Maryland Catholic Conference and the Brewers Association, cannot take individual legislators out to lunch or dinner; they can only invite groups and whole committees.
Two, the legislators do not have to file receipts to receive their $47 meal per diem, so they can chow down at a reception or high-class restaurant, and still claim their full per diem. A third explanation is that they both go to receptions and eat out on the taxpayers’ dime, which could explain why many lawmakers put on weight during their 90-day sojourn in Annapolis.
Last year, the legislature spent $450,505 on meals, a slight decline from the year before.
Three-quarters of the legislature (76%, 143 senators and delegates) also took advantage last year of renting hotel rooms or apartments and houses for the entire session at $101 a day, the federal GSA limit. This low rate is achieved mainly because the legislature rents rooms and apartments for the entire 90 days, even though the legislator may only stay over three or four nights a week.
Several committees are known for hearings that last well into the evening.
The most popular hotels are the Historic Inns of Annapolis, two renovated buildings across from the State House and the Maryland Inn nearby; the Loews Annapolis on West Street; and the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront across from the City Dock.
Twenty-four legislators stayed over only occasionally, and 21 submitted no claims for lodging. Sixteen legislators submitted no claims for any meals.
In 2017, the legislature spent $1,439,915 on lodging during session.
What they do
What do these legislators do with all that time they spend in Annapolis?
Last year, they introduced 2,861 bills, the most bills ever introduced in the past 30 years — and likely an all time record of 1,200 in the 47-member Senate and 1,661 in the House of Delegates. They passed a record number as well, 935, almost a third of those introduced, though many are duplicate, cross-filed simultaneously in the House and Senate and often with one of them vetoed by the governor.
With the final increment of a $6,850 pay raise that was phased in over the past four years, legislators now make $50,330 a year after having had no increase from 2006 to 2015. Based on the commission’s recommendations, they will get no raises in the next four years.
The presiding officers get $65,371, as well as state police protection which can also act as drivers.
While these perks are easy to grasp, they represent a tiny sliver of the overall $44 billion state budget and even just a small portion of the legislature’s $90 million budget this year. That includes 750 paid full- and part-time positions for lawmakers and staff, including the Department of Legislative Services.