State Senate orders $985 meal at taxpayers' expense

jbrammer@herald-leader.comMarch 14, 2013 

FRANKFORT — Taxpayers footed the nearly $1,000 bill for boxed barbecue dinners provided to state senators and their staffs as they worked late into the evening on March 7

It was the first time since April 15, 2008, that taxpayers' dollars were used to feed the Republican-led Senate during a legislative session, according to state records. The Democrat-led House has not bought its members a meal during a legislative session since March 2007.

In addition to their salary, all lawmakers get a daily expense stipend of $135.50 to cover travel, lodging and food costs during a legislative session. The tax-free stipend is provided seven days a week. Lawmakers also get a stationery allowance at the start of each session of $250 for House members and $500 for Senate members.

In salary, rank-and-file members of the legislature get $188.22 a day during a legislative session, including weekends and holidays. Leadership members receive about $40 more each day.

Documents obtained through the Kentucky Open Records Act show that the Senate spent $916.37 to buy 133 boxed meals for 38 senators and various staffers from Staxx BBQ in Frankfort on the evening of March 7. The boxes included pork, potato salad, a cookie, a wet napkin and prepackaged utensils.

An additional $23.28 was spent by the Senate to buy four dinners for vegetarians from Chili's Grill and Bar in Frankfort. A $46.04 bill was paid to Kroger for lemonade and tea.

The total price for dinner: $985.69.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Thursday that he authorized state payment for the meals.

"I knew this was going to be a long night," said Stivers, who became president of the Senate in January. "We had several bills that we wanted to get completed. We did. The next days were to be concurrence days (to decide if the Senate and House agreed on bills). We wanted to stick to the schedule."

Allowing senators to leave the Capitol that night to eat "would have put us in a position not to finish before midnight," when a new legislative day begins, he said. "I think that was borne out because we finished 10 minutes before midnight. If we had taken two hours to eat, we would not have been able to complete our business."

Stivers noted that many of the senators and staffers had been at work since 8 a.m.

If there is "criticism and people don't feel it is appropriate," Stivers said he would reimburse the state "the whole $1,000."

Asked why he provided a nearly two-hour recess for senators and staffers to eat dinner on their own on Monday of this week, when the Senate worked until nearly 11 p.m., Stivers noted that much of the evening was dedicated to closed-door negotiations between small groups of lawmakers.

"Everything performed on Monday night did not have to be performed on the Senate floor," he said.

Stivers said he has no set policy about when to offer a meal to senators and their staffs. "It depends; it's fact-specific," he said. "That night was a circumstance when I felt that it was appropriate to take care of members and the staff because of what I perceived to be taking place in a 10-hour day, most of which was on the floor."

Brian Wilkerson, a spokesman for House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said some House members have snacks and finger food in their offices, but they are bought by individual members.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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