By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – Senate President Robert Stivers informed his colleagues Monday that he will reimburse the state for the nearly $1,000 bill for boxed barbecue dinners provided to state senators and their staffs on the evening of March 7.
Stivers’ decision prompted several members, Republicans and Democrats, to say they will help Stivers with the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, accused the Lexington Herald-Leader of “gotcha journalism” for running an article in the March 15 newspaper about the meal footed by taxpayers.
The meal marked the first time since April 15, 2008, that taxpayers’ dollars were used to feed the Republican-led Senate during a legislative session, according to state records. The Democrat-led House has not bought its members a meal during a legislative session since March 2007.
In addition to their salary, all lawmakers get a daily expense stipend of $135.50 to cover travel, lodging and food costs during a legislative session. The tax-free stipend is provided seven days a week. Lawmakers also get a stationery allowance at the start of each session of $250 for House members and $500 for Senate members.
In salary, rank-and-file members of the legislature get $188.22 a day during a legislative session, including weekends and holidays. Leadership members receive about $40 more each day.
Documents obtained through the Kentucky Open Records Act showed that the Senate spent $985.69 for the boxed meals and lemonade and tea.
Senate President Stivers, R-Manchester, said he authorized state payment for the meals because the Senate had several bills it needed to complete by midnight that night and senators needed to stay at work.
He also said he would reimburse the state if there were “criticism and people don’t feel it is appropriate.”
Stivers, in a floor speech Monday, said he will personally reimburse the state.
“I can understand the criticism because 38 of us are given expenses to pay for meals. But there is close to 70 staff members, many of whom are paid less than $100 a day to stay on this floor when we started at 2 that afternoon and completed 10 minutes to midnight.”
He noted that most staffers started their day earlier.
Stivers said he will write a check to the state treasurer “so no can say we inappropriately spend money on this Senate floor for anyone’s meal.”
Late Monday night, Stivers, in another floor speech, said Senate members had given him more than $1,000 for the bill.
But he said he will bear the cost for the dinners and the money from the members will be donated to a charity in Frankfort with a list of the 38 senators’ names who had contributed.
He added that he would “greatly accept recommendations from the Lexington Herald-Leader as to where that money should go.”