Cut legislative session, costs

Let’s hear it for Rep. Chris Hart, whose legislative reimbursement for expenses totalled $8.90 last fiscal year. That figure, the lowest submitted in the S.C. General Assembly, reflects the Richland Democrat’s personal interest in the taxpayer.

Rep. Hart generally doesn’t put in for reimbursements, since he lives only five miles from the Statehouse. His grand total represents two trips for which he did claim mileage at the standard House rate of 45 cents per mile.

Other legislators aren’t so consciously frugal, and it shows in the reimbursement total of nearly $1.5 million for the House and Senate during the fiscal year ending June 30.

Most of the reimbursements were for expenses incurred during the session. Cumulatively they help make the case for a shorter session.

South Carolina’s legislative session — one of the nation’s longest — stretches from mid-January to early June and sometimes beyond. For example, this year the Legislature didn’t finish the budget until just before the July 1 start of the current fiscal year. That’s evidence of a lack of organizational skills you might expect the folks who write our laws to possess.

To its credit, the House annually approves a bill for a shorter session. But it fails to get consideration in the Senate, which typically stages a last-minute rush of vital legislation in the last days of the lengthy session.

And because the session stretches out interminably, so do the expenses of $131 per day. Plus, there’s mileage for a round trip between the home district and Columbia each week during the session.

And there’s the annual legislative pay of $10,400 and the so-called local expense allocation of $1,000 a month.

Sitting legislators also are eligible for an extra-generous retirement allowance.

Until the state pension reform was approved this year, legislators could look forward to the day when they could opt for retirement pay of up to $33,000, while continuing to serve in office.

Still, there are always some legislators who will complain about how little they are paid for all their hard work.

If the Legislature would curtail the session closer to the 40 working days envisioned by the state constitution, they wouldn’t have so much to complain about.

Better they should keep in mind Rep. Hart’s reimbursement guideline: “I just figured I could save some taxpayer money.”