April 1, 2009

When Somebody Else Picks Up the Tab

Justin Katz

Used to be I'd bring a sandwich, an apple, a beverage, and a packaged lunch dessert. I've been down to a sandwich and apple for quite a while now, although sometimes I'll substitute leftovers for the sandwich. Such is the daily routine for millions of Americans, especially during harder times: pack a lunch, usually a sandwich. That's why there are often lines — why they have numbered tickets to maintain order — at the deli counter on weekends.

Members of the General Assembly apparently prefer a different routine:

One night last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee ordered up a $459 grilled steak and chicken stir fry, an $85 fruit wedge and $75 dessert tray from The Butcher Shop on Providence's East Side. Everything included, the total for that dinner came to $879.86.

On a more recent day, there were platters of veal and peppers and meatball and roasted turkey sandwiches from Pauly Penta's Gourmet Italian Deli, in North Providence, set aside for the members of the House Finance Committee. The lunch tab that day: $114.58. ...

The Assembly's $163,000 annual food and drink budget is one of the untrumpeted perks available to the $14,089-a-year, part-time legislators in Rhode Island, along with free health, dental and vision care for lawmakers and their families, and the 50.5-cent-per-mile reimbursement for each legislative session day they attend.

In calendar 2008, the legislators spent $167,648 on bottled water, sodas and food, which equated to $2,619 for each of the 64 days they were in session last year. The total included $73,065 for beverages and $94,582 for food.

The argument for the practice — beyond "other states do it" — is that it enables continuous sessions. I'd suggest that there are plenty of ways to provide meals that don't hit the taxpayer wallet so hard. Perhaps a workshop on food budgeting is in order.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

That's $1,463.81 per legislator (167,648 divided by 113)

Another nice benefit. Maybe in addition to making a co-pay on their insurance, they can write a check back for this amount to cover their food. And don't give me any of this "well I didn't eat that day, or I'm not on that committee" crap. We don't do separate checks. We take the total and divide by the number in attendance.

If you don't like doing it that way, eliminate it from the budget and bring your brown bag to the office. Why not, I do every day.

Posted by: Patrick at April 1, 2009 10:58 AM

Excellent reporting by the ProJo.

While we shouldn't allow this to distract us excessively from bigger matters like budgets and election processes, there does seem to be a certain insensitivity and disconnect to these expenditures.

Posted by: Monique at April 1, 2009 12:09 PM

Nissin Chow Mein, that's my usual lunch. Bought in bulk, $1.00 each. All members of the GA could have a meal a day, 5 days a week, for 6 months, for less than $15,000.

Posted by: Jon at April 1, 2009 12:53 PM

The school committee in E Providence voted to eliminate their health insurance, life and dental insurances.

We are in the middle of a financial nightmare, and these folks don't get it. It's another expenditure that is most certainly not necessary.

We need term limits so badly for this state, and also nationally. As long as we give these people permission to steal, they will grab the money with both fists.

Posted by: kathy at April 1, 2009 2:15 PM

Hmmm Maybe I'll bring some littlenecks and oysters to the statehouse.

Posted by: Phil at April 2, 2009 6:48 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.