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Taxpayers off the hook for feeding state senators during session

November 8, 2011 |  6:23 pm

Under fire for spending $111,316 in taxpayer funds to feed themselves this year, state senators have acted to end the practice.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said a majority of the five-member Senate Rules Committee voted Tuesday to instead ask each member to pay $2,000 per year for stocking the coffee room and for meal expenses during times when sessions extend into the lunch or dinner hour.

"It has been a long tradition in the Senate that our coffee room provides snacks for members on session days, and meals in situations where the Senate remains in session over normal dining hours," Steinberg wrote in a memo to his colleagues. "However, not all traditions can or should be maintained indefinitely; our institutional practices should reflect our best judgment as times and circumstances change."

Steinberg was joined by Democratic Sens. Elaine Alquist of Santa Clara and Kevin De Leon of Los Angeles in voting as the committee's majority to change the policy, while Republican Sen. Tom Harman of Huntington Beach voted against asking members to pay $2,000 a year. Harman did not respond to calls and emails to his office for a comment on his vote.

Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield) was ill and missed the initial vote, but she believes senators can fend for themselves without the Senate collecting money from everyone for meals or billing taxpayers, according to spokeswoman Julie Sauls. "There is a cafeteria in the Capitol,'' she noted.

The Times reported Sunday that the Senate had spent 10% more this year than last on meals even while it approved a 6% cut in the budget for services to Californians.

The taxpayer funded meals had been criticized by Lew Uhler, head of the California-based National Tax Limitation Committee, who said it was double dipping, because senators also get $143 per day for expenses, including meals and lodging, while they are in Sacramento. Uhler on Tuesday welcomed the change, saying "It seems they recognized the error of their ways. I think most taxpayers would say `good riddance’ to the practice."

Steinberg also said Tuesday that he has recommended  a review of the Senate schedule "to minimize those days when meals might otherwise have been provided."

--Patrick McGreevy