Now Republican Argall wants to move to the state Senate, where the 29th District seat held by the late Jim Rhoades is vacant. Argall is the front-runner in the race, but before Argall moves to the Senate, a group of reformers want him to pay back the pay raise money and "per diem" money that Argall may or may not have been entitled to.
Below is a letter sent by five prominent citizen reformers.
Dear Rep. Argall,
It has been widely reported that you are seeking to the fill the late Sen. Jim Rhoades' vacant seat.
Before pursuing your newest political endeavor, however, we implore you to repay to the taxpayers the tens of thousands of dollars you owe them for: 1) tax-free, supplemental "per diem" money you've collected in excess of your actual expenses for food and lodging; and 2) the money you collected from the repealed pay raise of 2005.
With regard to the per diem money: a thorough review of official records from the House Chief Clerk's office indicates that, from 2005 to 2007 alone, you collected more than $48,000 in per diem money for food and lodging expenses that were incurred on approximately 420 separate business days in Harrisburg. That averages out to a per diem payment to you of $115 per day. This money of course was collected above and beyond your base salary of more than $100,000, and in addition to the money you collected for transportation expenses.
As you know, you and your fellow legislators have made it such that you don't even have to provide receipts for, or documentation of, your actual expenses for food and lodging. Therefore, it is difficult to calculate precisely how much tax-free, supplemental per diem money you collected above and beyond those expenses.
This much we know, however: in 2007, the average resident in Schuylkill County was living on $41.93 per day, and the average resident in Berks County on $49.43 per day – for housing costs, health care, food, transportation, utilities, etc. (United States Census Bureau). On average, you collected $113 a day in tax-free, supplemental income, - just for food and lodging – which is more than double what your constituents had to live on for all the costs of life.
We also know that it is only 78 miles from your Lake Hautto home to the Capitol (a drive of 1 hour and 28 minutes), which means you are often able to drive home from the Capitol after a session day or nonvoting business day, and not need taxpayer-funded lodging.
Further, we know that oftentimes during session days, representatives are usually provided with catered meals out of leadership accounts, or lobbyists simply pick up the tab – further driving down your actual expenses for which you collected per diem money.
Concluding our first item on per diems: given that your average per diem check for food and lodging expenses in 2007 ($113) was more than double what your constituents had to live on for all the expenses of life that year ($45, when averaging between Schuylkill and Berks counties' residents), and multiplying the differential ($68) by the number of days for which you collected a per diem in 2007 (149), we believe you overcharged the taxpayers by $10,000 (rounding down), just for calendar year 2007. We believe this figure to be a conservative estimate given that it does not factor in the abovementioned free meals provided to you from leadership accounts and lobbyists. Furthermore, if we were to multiply your years in the House (24) by the excess per diem money collected for each year, we'd likely compute an amount well over $100,000 in tax-free, supplemental income owed to the taxpayers (after adjusting for inflation). Again, this is a very conservative estimate.
Regarding the second item mentioned above – the 2005 pay raise money: according to news reports in the Morning Call, you collected $7,000 in so-called "unvouchered expense" money from a 2005 pay raise that was not only repealed, but ruled unconstitutional. Many legislators never collected a penny of this illicit raise. Of those that did collect, the overwhelming majority paid the money back, either upon its repeal, or upon its being ruled unconstitutional. Indeed, the man who once walked in the very large shoes you aspire to fill – Sen. James Rhoades – did the honorable thing and paid back every single cent.
You've stubbornly refused paying back the pay raise money, citing the fact that you gave it to charity, which in your belief should excuse you from reimbursing the taxpayers. We would remind you that in American jurisprudence, giving ill-gotten gains to charity is never an acceptable defense. To say it in other words, someone who robs a bank could never tell the judge he gave the money to charity, and expect to get off the hook.
Our first appeal is to your sense of integrity: Giving back the rather large sum of money you owe the taxpayers is simply the right thing to do.
Our second appeal is to your sense for fiscal need: the Commonwealth is presently staring at a budget deficit that experts predict will reach anywhere from $1 billion to $2 billion. We are likely facing a combination of tax increases and painful cuts in vital state services and programs. What a shame it would be, for instance, if we had to cut $100,000 for library services, when you alone owe the taxpayers at least that much in excess per diem money and unconstitutional, unvouchered expenses. Combined with like amounts owed by your colleagues, the figure grows exponentially.
Failing our first two appeals, our final appeal is to the political sense for which you are famous. It would simply be political suicide to seek an open state Senate seat when you owe a very large sum of money to the taxpayers for unvouchered expenses and excess, tax-free per diem money. This is akin to expecting to be granted approval for a mortgage with deficiencies in your credit history, something your constituents are painfully aware of during these rough economic times.
We look forward to receiving word from you in the very near future that you have decided to do right by the taxpayers you seek to represent in Senate by paying back your unvouchered expenses and excess, tax-free per diem money.
Rock the Capital
Taxpayers & Ratepayers United
PA Clean Sweep
PA Accountability Project