When it came to getting reimbursed for optional legislator expenses last year, Republican Sen. Jerome Delvin of Richland was No. 1, spending $59,080 in taxpayer money.
“It’s nothing I seek out,” Delvin said of his top ranking Friday. He was No. 36 in the Senate the previous year but No. 2 in 2006.
“I did a lot of traveling,” Delvin said, noting that he serves on a life-sciences board and the Gambling Commission and has other legislative duties that require him to cross the state frequently by airplane. “I’m elected to a position, and if I’m going to participate and represent my constituents and caucus, it’s going to cost for me to travel.”
Delvin also put out a newsletter last year; he had skipped doing that the previous year. That drove up his printing and postage costs by more than $21,000.
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Senate and House administrators tally up expense data in the late spring each year, and the latest figures were released to The Olympian this month in response to a records request.
In the House, Republican Rep. Ed Orcutt of Kalama was the top spender at $57,801, followed by Democratic Rep. Maralyn Chase of Shoreline. Seven Democrats were among the top 10 spenders in the House for 2008 – topped by Chase, Larry Springer and Roger Goodman, both of Kirkland, and Fred Jarrett of Mercer Island (now a senator).
“I didn’t think anybody was shockingly out of line,” House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said after reviewing the data for her chamber in detail Friday. She said publication costs appeared to be driving some of her caucus members’ costs, such as those of Chase, who previously had low expenses.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, was No. 2 in the Senate, spending $51,143, but overall, eight of the Senate’s top 10 spenders in 2008 were Republicans.
Reimbursed expenses include mileage, postage and printing for newsletters, optional office costs and per diem expense allowances paid when lawmakers are in session or traveling on legislative business. (Per diem was $100 in the House last year, $90 in the Senate.)
Overall, Senate lawmakers were reimbursed for fewer expenses in 2008 than in the previous year, but House members’ reimbursed expenses went up – despite a shorter legislative session. Kessler said some members might have put out newsletters in 2008 knowing it was an election year.
Tight budgets have changed the rules this year, and lawmakers in both chambers face stricter limits on travel and new accounting rules that could lead to lower reimbursements, particularly mailings, Kessler said. Other cuts involve reducing the Legislature’s staffing and furloughs without pay for many.
“Once the 2009 budget reality sets in ... I think we’ll see a little sea change in the next couple of years” for legislator reimbursements, Kessler said.
Orcutt, a critic of Democrats’ budget choices, said he was concerned when he learned of his own spending total. He responded by cutting expenses this year.
“Believe me, before I even saw that I was concerned about how much was coming out of the budget. So this year I opted not to send a mailer out to the district to save money; I didn’t go to one of the (group) meetings,” Orcutt said. “So I am trying to cut back because of the budget issue.”
Orcutt said his costs were legitimate and partly a result of serving on many committees, including study groups, as well as being the ranking minority on House Finance.
“I’m on the Western Forestry Task Force, I’m on the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, and I was on the digital-goods study group. Then I had another work group that used up my discretionary days,” he said.
What put him at the top was a decision to go it alone in 2008 in sending out a mailer rather than sharing with his district seatmate.
Some lawmakers have low expenses every year, and Democratic Sen. Karen Fraser of Thurston County usually is near the bottom of the list. Because she lives near Olympia, she declines the $90-per-day expense money paid to lawmakers during sessions.
As a result, Fraser ranked No. 48 in the Senate with $17,738 in expenses in 2008. Only Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, was lower at $14,702.
Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia ranked No. 98 in the House with $17,672. That was below all but a few lawmakers who left office early in the year.
CUTTING MAIL COSTS
Like Fraser, Hunt switched to e-mail delivery of newsletters a few years ago and spent $244 on printing and related postage last year. But he had higher expenses in other areas, taking the full $10,000 taxable allotment for quarterly office expenses and collecting an additional $6,709 in per diem or expense money – even though he lives in Olympia during sessions.
Among other South Sound lawmakers, the top Senate spender was Marilyn Rasmussen, a Democrat who ranked No. 28 and spent $38,284. She lost her re-election bid last fall.
In the House, Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams of Olympia was highest at No. 34, spending $40,383. He spent $24,204 on mailings, received $6,000 per diem despite living in Olympia, and received $10,000 for office costs.
Unlike the Senate, where Brown and Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla both were in the top 10, House leaders kept their costs down. House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, ranked No. 87 with $26,110 in costs, and House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis was No. 92 with $25,055.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688