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Legislative leaders raise lawmakers’ per diem 35 percent

ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia’s 2007 General Assembly hasn’t yet begun, but legislative leaders have already handed themselves and their colleagues a 35 percent boost in their daily allowance.
    Meeting in Athens for a pre-session boot camp, members of the Legislative Services Committee met briefly and quietly boosted the per-diem for state legislators from $128 a day to $173. The committee’s action does not require approval from the full Legislature.
    The per-diem is a flat allowance for daily expenses like food and lodging that the lawmakers receive on top of their legislative salaries for attending legislative sessions and committee meetings.
    The last per diem increase for lawmakers was in 1999.
    Republican leaders said the hike is needed to meet rising hotel and other costs in the Atlanta area.
    State Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, said the new figure matches the rate the federal government pays in the Atlanta area. From now on Georgia’s per diem rate will rise and fall as the federal government’s does, Keen said.
    ‘‘It’s hard to rent a hotel room and eat on $128 a day in Atlanta, ‘‘ Keen said Monday. ‘‘In fact, I would say that you cannot do it unless you stay in some areas you might not want to stay in.’’
    Democratic House Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin and state Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown of Macon were at the committee meeting Monday morning where the increase was approved.
    Keen and Republican leaders cast the agreement as bipartisan.
    Porter saw a shade of difference.
    ‘‘They raised it. We did not object,’’ he said.
    The increase applies only to lawmakers, not to citizens who serve on state boards. A corresponding increase for those board members would have to be approved by the full state Legislature. Porter said the increase should be applied uniformly to those board members as well.
    Georgia’s 236 state legislators meet for what is typically a 40-day session. They also receive per diems for committee meetings on non-legislative days.
    For the coming session they will also receive a legislative salary of $17,341 and $7,000 a year in expense account money which they can use for operating expenses,
    The Georgia General Assembly’s 2007 session is set to begin Jan. 8.

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