Well, this doesn’t sound like bilking the Alaskan taxpayers at all, does it? Nope, nothing to see here:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a "per diem" allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.
What do the Alaska state rules say about per diem and travel reimbursements? Let’s take a peek (PDF).
The rules require that the person in question be "authorized" or "assigned" to work in the place for which the per diem is requested, and there are varying rates depending on various distance and time factors. But there are very specific requirements as to what is or is not travel status for per diem reimbursement. I have doubts that Sarah Palin qualified.
Read for yourself (PDF):
A traveler is not in travel status for local travel or day trips. The following are some examples of travelers who would not be considered in travel status under the local travel or day trip provision:
- A state trooper while on patrol in his/her assigned territory.
- A safety inspector whose normal duties include driving from his/her normal duty station to a construction site for purposes of conducting an inspection.
- A health inspector whose normal duties include driving from his/her normal duty station to various communities to inspect facilities.
- A mileage reimbursement form may be used to reimburse transportation costs when the criteria for travel status are not met.
To make this work, Palin would have to claim that her primary residence was the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau — except Alaska legislators complain that during last year’s session that she was hardly in Juneau at all, despite her well-publicized trip to Dallas mid-April.
None of the information I’ve found lists an allowance for per-diem payment for travel to and from one’s primary residence for a day trip to work. (See here for a breakdown of how the IRS looks at some per diem calculations. Since the federal rules are referenced on the AK regs PDF, I thought this might prove interesting.) Further, state travel regulations regarding day-to-day commutes to one’s "duty station" require that, where travel is within a 50-mile radius (or more, if it is within a day’s drive for regular commutes), reimbursement is NOT provided under state regs. (PDF)
For business or work purposes, that would mean being sent somewhere on a trip specifically for one’s job outside a normal day’s workplace, and not jaunting to and fro from your own home with your own family for your own comfort on the taxpayers’ dime. Call me frugal.
Google maps says that Wasilla and Anchorage, which Sarah Palin used as her "office," are 42.2 miles apart. Which would be below that reimbursement window, unless they are counting that as a round-trip total. (The chart is unclear.) But was Sarah Palin "assigned" to live in her own home by the State of Alaska?
Further, the Alaska Division of Finance deliniates in accordance with the primary residence (PDF) and the duties of office. There’s a lovely governor’s mansion for Palin’s residence in Juneau. I get wanting to have quality family time, truly I do, but didn’t Sarah Palin contemplate the disruption of her fiduciary obligations from her state duties and responsibilities before she ran for office? You’d think so.
Did she inform the citizens of Alaska she’d be mostly staying away from the capital during her campaign? Seems to me that minimizing the costs to the taxpayers — not finding a way to milk them — ought to be a fiduciary obligation here. I can certainly understand trips around the state and other official events when the legislature is out of session. But when it is in session?
During a recent special session called by Palin herself, she faced criticism from several legislators for not showing up personally to push for her agenda.
Someone at the Capitol even printed up buttons asking "Where’s Sarah?"
Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, called it a telling question.
"At a time when her leadership was truly needed, we didn’t know where she was," Doll said.
Palin’s gubernatorial office has been plagued by turnover. She just appointed a new chief of staff this week, she’s on her third legislative director in 21 months, and her press office has had numerous staff coming and going.
Sounds like a real prize of a workhorse, doesn’t she?
I’d be very interested to know how they deal with that specifically for the Governor of Alaska, where the legislature is in session only 90 days per year — and where a secondary residence is provided for the governor in Juneau, at taxpayer expense, not far from the state capitol for her duties while the legislature is in session.
But wait, there’s more:
She wrote some form of "Lodging — own residence" or "Lodging — Wasilla residence" more than 30 times at the same time she took a per diem, according to the reports. In two dozen undated amendments to the reports, the governor deleted the reference to staying in her home but still charged the per diem.
Why delete the reference to the Wasilla residence in twelve of these notations? That seems odd, if she felt there wasn’t anything wrong with charging the state the per diem fee to be paid to live in her own home and all. Just because past administrations got accused of using this per diem as a scam, if Palin thought the law allowed it, why try and delete those references?
Sarah Palin is already facing one abuse of power investigation, allegedly using her position to exact retribution against her former brother in law and officials who wouldn’t tow her line. Lining your pockets on the taxpayer dime with a little extra reimbursement where you are paid to live in your own home sounds a little too Boss Hogg for my comfort. If she did violate state regulations, will there be reimbursement? Also, some of this is taxable income, so did she pay proper taxes on it?
Something’s funky, and I’m going to keep digging.
P.S. — Do check out the WaPo article photo. Priceless.