Governor is on the right track
By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP - Managing Editor
Since taking office, Governor Bob Riley has seemed to be a man on a mission. The mission he is on is indeed a worthy one - cutting state spending. Among the cuts he has made so far: cutting the number of vehicles provided to state employees and slashing the budgets for each state department (unfortunately that meant education as well). In his first few months of office, Riley has resembled the yellow, happy-faced Wal-Mart guy who in their commercials bounces around the store slashing prices. Only instead of slashing prices, he is slashing spending.
There are plenty of savings to be made by curbing state spending. An example of this may be found in one of Riley's most recent cuts - state per diems paid to employees. Prior to last week, state employees received $150 dollars for trips that required an overnight stay. This money would be used for a hotel room and two meals. I think many of those who do not work for the state would consider that a bit excessive.
But now, instead of a chocolate on their pillow when they get a hotel room, they will have to settle for the bare basics - bed, television and a shower. That is because the governor has cut the overnight per diem from $150 to only $100. According to a press release issued by the governor's office, this alone will save taxpayers $6.1 million each year.
Before the change, state employees could claim $75 per day for overnight trips, totaling a $150 payment. Riley lowered that to $50 per day, equaling $100 for the trip. Taxpayers spent $14.8 million last year on in-state travel, and the change is expected to save at least $4.9 million annually.
Also, employees could claim $11.25 if they are gone from their office for more than six hours and $30 if they are gone for more than 12 hours for food and beverage expenses. Riley's new policy lowers that to $7.50 and $20, respectively. Taxpayers spent $3.5 million last year on these claims and the new policy is expected to save at least $1.2 million annually.
Riley also increased the distance an individual must travel before being allowed to stay overnight and thereby claim the $100 per diem. Currently, employees can stay in a hotel if they venture more than 50 miles from their office. That is now increased to 100 miles, which would significantly increase the $6.1 million savings on per diem since fewer employees would be eligible to stay overnight. Employees traveling less than 100 miles from their office would be required to return home after concluding their official business.
Riley said that official business should be conducted through letters, telephone conversations and e-mail when possible, and that travel will only be authorized when it is absolutely essential. Employees are also encouraged to carpool when possible.
In the major scheme of things the per diem's paid out to employees would not seem that significant. But, as we all know, every dollar adds up.
Riley deserves a lot of credit for looking outside of the box and finding areas where tax dollars can be saved. He is not accepting the status quo that was left for him as many governors have done in the past.
These changes should be the beginning of government reform in our state. While Riley's cuts will go a long way in helping the state, it is not a long-term solution. Riley seems to understand what the biggest issues are - tax reform and a workable state constitution. By seeing these issues to fruition, Riley will lead our state to a better future.