When Somebody Else Picks Up the Tab
Used to be I’d bring a sandwich, an apple, a beverage, and a packaged lunch dessert. I’ve been down to a sandwich and apple for quite a while now, although sometimes I’ll substitute leftovers for the sandwich. Such is the daily routine for millions of Americans, especially during harder times: pack a lunch, usually a sandwich. That’s why there are often lines — why they have numbered tickets to maintain order — at the deli counter on weekends.
Members of the General Assembly apparently prefer a different routine:
One night last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee ordered up a $459 grilled steak and chicken stir fry, an $85 fruit wedge and $75 dessert tray from The Butcher Shop on Providence’s East Side. Everything included, the total for that dinner came to $879.86.
On a more recent day, there were platters of veal and peppers and meatball and roasted turkey sandwiches from Pauly Penta’s Gourmet Italian Deli, in North Providence, set aside for the members of the House Finance Committee. The lunch tab that day: $114.58. …
The Assembly’s $163,000 annual food and drink budget is one of the untrumpeted perks available to the $14,089-a-year, part-time legislators in Rhode Island, along with free health, dental and vision care for lawmakers and their families, and the 50.5-cent-per-mile reimbursement for each legislative session day they attend.
In calendar 2008, the legislators spent $167,648 on bottled water, sodas and food, which equated to $2,619 for each of the 64 days they were in session last year. The total included $73,065 for beverages and $94,582 for food.
The argument for the practice — beyond “other states do it” — is that it enables continuous sessions. I’d suggest that there are plenty of ways to provide meals that don’t hit the taxpayer wallet so hard. Perhaps a workshop on food budgeting is in order.