Commute drives up W.Va. lawmakers' expenses

July 12, 1997

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Sen. Harry Dugan drove roundtrip from his home in Martinsburg, W.Va., to the Capitol nearly every weekend during the 60-day legislative session, compiling $1,662 in mileage reimbursements.

Dugan, R-Berkeley, received a total of $6,769 in mileage and living stipends during the session and an additional $871 for the eight-day extended session.

His total expenses were $7,640, the most of any senator, according to Senate and House of Delegates payroll records.

Another Eastern Panhandle lawmaker, Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, was the top expense taker in the House. Doyle received $6,762 for the regular session and $1,161 for the extended session, for a total of $7,923.

Expenses are in addition to lawmakers' $15,000 salary.

House and Senate payroll records show most lawmakers took more than $6,000 in expense pay for the session and extended session this year.


Lawmakers are reimbursed 31 cents per mile for travel and are allowed one round trip home each week during the session. Those who spend the night in Charleston also can receive $85 a day for meals and lodging while those who commute can get $45 a day stipend.

Doyle and Dugan each received $5,100 in stipends, the amount most lawmakers turned in. The most any lawmaker received for a stipend was $5,185, which several turned in.

Doyle and Dugan say their expenses were the highest because they live the farthest from the Capitol. Both make 670-mile round trips, the longest of any legislator.

Legislators who live in Kanawha County traditionally do not seek expenses or mileage reimbursements, and this year none who live in Putnam County did, either.

In the Senate district that includes Putnam, Mason, Jackson and Roane counties, Sen. Oshel Craigo, D-Putnam, did not turn in expenses while Sen. Robert Dittmar, D-Jackson, received $6,029 for the session and extended session.

Craigo's round trip from the Capitol is 45 miles while Dittmar's is 110.

Of the two senators who represent Cabell County, Sen. Tom Scott, R-Cabell, commuted and Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, stayed in Charleston. Scott's round trip is 102 miles while Plymale's is 110.

Scott received $4,721 in total expenses for the session and extended session while Plymale received $6,020.

Of the six delegates representing Cabell County, two commuted, Democrats Arley Johnson and Mark Underwood. They had the lowest expenses of the six.

Johnson, whose round trip is 106 miles, received $3,893, and Underwood, whose round trip is 116 miles, received $4,360.

Johnson said he has stayed in Charleston in the past but commuted this year because he had evening speaking events in his unsuccessful campaign for Huntington mayor. He also has seven children to spend time with, so he may commute again next year, he said.

Underwood said he got accustomed to long commutes when he went to law school and during his law practice in Los Angeles. His commute from his beachfront home to his downtown law office was an hour each way, he said.

Democrat Margarette Leach had the highest expenses of any Cabell delegate, $6,200. Democrat Evan Jenkins received $6,079, Republican Jody Smirl received $5,967 and Democrat Susan Hubbard turned in $5,616.

A few other delegates commuted, including Richard Flanigan, D-Mercer, and Tom Louisos, D-Fayette. Flanigan's round trip was 200 miles while Louisos drove 110 miles each day.

Flanigan said his trip was long but easy. He lives a few miles from the West Virginia Turnpike so the trip takes him an hour and a half each way.

``It's a beautiful drive,'' he said.

``I don't attend the parties and things. I come home and spend time with the family,'' Flanigan said.

Flanigan also received the $45 commuter stipend, making his total expenses $4,524.

Louisos did not accept the stipend for meals. His total expenses were $1,500, the lowest of anyone who turned in expenses.

``I feel like the average worker when he goes out to work. He's not subsidized for his meals. Although I work for the public, I shouldn't get meals,'' Louisos said.

``I'm there to give, not to take,'' Louisos said.

Louisos said he does not like to spend the night in Charleston.

``I stay home where I can stay out of trouble,'' he said. Also, his constituents can reach him at home more easily.

``When you live in Charleston 60 days, you lose touch with reality and become a part of the bureaucracy and not a part of the public,'' said Louisos, a Democrat known for voting against the Democratic leadership.

``I think we should reduce the size of government ... I want to start with myself,'' Louisos said.

Legislators who accept the mileage reimbursement and stipend say the money is either not enough or barely enough to cover their actual costs.

``If I was doing this for a profit, it wouldn't be near enough,'' Dugan said.

Dugan drives a 1993 luxury sedan he bought new for $38,000.

``When you put your miles on a vehicle of that type, it nowhere covers what your expenses are,'' Dugan said.

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