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Taxpayers May No Longer be on the Hook Paying Lawmakers to Drive or Carpool to Work

A perk Connecticut General Assembly members currently enjoy may come to an end if a newly proposed bill passes. 

As of today, legislators receive reimbursements for mileage expenses even if they opt for carpooling without actively participating in the driving. However, the bill sponsored by Rep. Holly Cheeseman (R-East Lyme) aims to eliminate allowances for the 187 General Assembly members commuting to the Capitol or where a public hearing or meeting is held. Additionally, it seeks to bar legislators from receiving reimbursement if they are merely passengers in a vehicle.  

Carpoolers have been able to exploit a loophole that allows them to claim compensation, as members receive allowances based on the round-trip mileage between their residences and workplaces, regardless of whether they personally operate the vehicle. 

The Hartford Courant brought attention to this loophole in 2018 when Rep. Christine Conley (D-Groton) claimed mileage reimbursement despite being incapacitated with a broken leg. Relying on another legislator for transportation, she still submitted a reimbursement request receiving $1,706.65 for 29 round trips (110 miles each) to Hartford. Because of the way the law is written, Rep. Conley broke no rules. 

This is not a new concept as similar bills have been brought up — on a yearly basis — but they have all failed to gain any traction as lawmakers who find financial gains in this practice have shown a lack of motivation to advance them out of committee. 

According to a Freedom of Information filed by Yankee Institute, lawmakers accumulated nearly $200,000 in mileage reimbursements between January and July 2022, followed by $340,000 in 2023 for the same period. Surprisingly, even amidst government shutdowns in 2020 prompted by the pandemic, lawmakers managed to accrue $217,000. Reimbursement rates are currently 65.5 cents per mile. 

Individual lawmakers received mileage allowance payments ranging from $39.30 to $7,638.89 in 2023. 

Remarkably, during these periods, not a single legislator sought reimbursement for using public transportation, including buses or trains. This means that even the most environmentally conscious lawmakers opted to commute to work by driving instead of utilizing more eco-friendly modes of transportation,  

Additionally, it’s worth highlighting that the transportation allowances received by legislators are considered in the computation of the base salary for pension payments. Rep. Craig Fishbein (R-Wallingford) and Rep. Rachel Chaleski (R-Danbury) cosponsored a bill last year aiming to exclude this factor from the calculations. However, the bill failed to progress, never even receiving a public hearing, and was essentially dead on arrival. 

It is reasonable to allow legislators to receive reimbursement for miles driven, considering the wear and tear on their vehicles. However, these payments should align with established U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidelines for business miles. The IRS allows deductions for travel initiated after arriving at work or the first business destination, excluding routine commuting miles to and from a permanent office. Additionally, travel allowances should not be factored into their pension payments. 

The bill is currently pending review by the Appropriations Committee, awaiting consideration before it can be scheduled for a public hearing. 

Meghan Portfolio

Meghan worked in the private sector for two decades in various roles in management, sales, and project management. She was an intern on a presidential campaign and field organizer in a governor’s race. Meghan, a Connecticut native, joined Yankee Institute in 2019 as the Development Manager. After two years with Yankee, she has moved into the policy space as Yankee’s Manager of Research and Analysis. When she isn’t keeping up with local and current news, she enjoys running–having completed seven marathons–and reading her way through Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

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