With lobbyists pulling back from buying legislators’ meals and drinks, lawmakers are turning to taxpayers to pick up the tab. HB 1505 is a bipartisan effort that would allow legislators to be reimbursed by taxpayers for their meals during session. The price tag is estimated to be $401,496 over two years. Not only is the bill unnecessary, but it is also completely out-of-touch with what average taxpayers face on a daily basis.
According to John Hageman’s reporting, “The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, said lawmakers have discussed the idea in the past but it became more urgent after the passage of Measure 1.” That is the Measure passed by North Dakota voters to increase transparency on what influence lobbyists have on legislators. Lawmakers read that as “fewer free meals” and have decided it is “urgent” that those free meatballs, chicken wings, and steak dinners don’t get stripped away. After all, the lobbyist subsidized meals were an unwritten benefit of being a legislator during the session. It was a standing joke that if you played it just right, you could eat for free during the entire session as a lawmaker.
Other’s are attempting to paint the picture that being in elected office is a burden financially. Not necessarily. Lawmakers earn monthly and daily pay during the legislative session. We pay for their housing during session. We pay for their travel to and from the Capitol. We pay for their travel to conferences across the country. The biggest benefit of all, we fully pay for their health insurance policy that is guaranteed for at least four years while they’re in elected office. If applicable, it covers their immediate family as well. Lawmakers don’t pay a dime for that fully taxpayer-funded benefit. That benefit alone is thousands of dollars they receive because of the job.
Some of the same lawmakers on this bill are quick to lecture about personal responsibility and keeping family finances in order. Most families in the private sector are required to budget for their own meals after they pay taxes and their insurance premiums. Good luck bringing your fast food receipt to your manager and asking for them to reimburse it on a daily basis. Yet, somehow legislators believe they’re entitled to just that. If they can’t budget their personal meals, perhaps they shouldn’t be budgeting for a state.