The state may not have a budget, but guess who's collecting cash anyway?

You didn't think that our Harrisburg lawmakers would go penniless in July, now did you? Thanks to the miracle magic of per diems, members of the Senate ands Assembly can bank some extra loot each and every day, whether they contribute anything to solving the budget impasse or not.

John Baer reports for

Lawmakers can get up to $158 a day in expenses for each and every day the budget battle goes on, and most can collect it even in the absence of a budget.

Because per diems can be claimed for weekends, that's potentially more than $1,000 a week; so, even as lawmakers' regular salaries are withheld until a budget is in place, their life isn't likely to be too tough.

This is an especially egregious waste of money, since the vast majority of our 253 legislators have little to do with settling budget disputes; a handful of leaders traditionally do that.

Also, legislative employees (the largest state legislative staff in America, numbering around 3,100) are being paid full salaries even though the state has no authority to spend money and state workers face payless paydays.

Lawmakers' per diems amount almost to a cash incentive to stretch out the fight. And for staff members, hey, who cares how long it takes?

...The Republican Senate, according to chief clerk Russ Faber, won't honor expense claims or per diems until a budget is adopted. But the Democratic-run House will hand out cash right away, even without a budget, according to chief clerk Roger Nick.

The budget, due last Tuesday, is in limbo as Gov. Rendell and Republicans fight over taxes, cuts and a $3.25 billion deficit.

Lawmakers' paychecks come the first of each month, so they are not being paid for July (they're paid retroactively once a budget is adopted), but expense checks could add up in a hurry.

If only half the Legislature claims allowable limits and the impasse lasts until the end of July, that's $20,000 a day for - let's say - 20 days, or $400,000. And that's conservative, on top of salary, and maybe only the beginning.

And once a budget gets passed, or maybe sooner, Ed Rendell says the state will have to furlough 800 workers.

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