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While he decided yesterday to reject his salary during the state budget standoff, Assemblyman Marty Block will continue to accept payments for expenses incurred while he’s in Sacramento.

However, it might be some time before he and other legislators actually get paid. The state started sending out IOUs for the tax-free “per diem” payments on June 28 and hasn’t sent out any money for the last two weeks, said Christopher Ward, Block’s chief of staff.

Block’s salary came under scrutiny this week when I called his office to see if he was still accepting paychecks. During last fall’s campaign, the 78th district representative said in TV commercials that “I won’t take any salary when the legislature is late passing a budget.”

On Monday, Ward said Block’s interpretation of his promise didn’t apply to the current budget deadlock. A day later, Block reversed course and sent a letter to the state controller saying he wouldn’t accept pay after June 30 until the budget impasse is resolved.

State legislators get a variety of fringe benefits, including a free leased car and $173 per-diem payments while the legislature is in session.

Ward said Block doesn’t have a state-paid car but he does accept per diem payments.

“Because he is still incurring living expenses due to the requirement of having a second place of residence in Sacramento to fulfill his job responsibilities, he feels it is appropriate to receive the per diem,” Ward said.

He added that Block rents an apartment in Sacramento.

If the legislature were to meet every weekday for a month, the per diem would amount to $3,460. That’s on top of the annual legislator salary of $116,208.

The Sacramento Bee looked at legislator salaries and perks in a story last month:

California’s legislators are the nation’s highest paid but make considerably less than many top officials of large cities, counties and school districts, records show. Upon leaving office, legislators receive no pension or health benefits.

“The dirty little secret is, we’re not fat cats,” said Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, who notes that lawmakers must maintain two residences and contends that cutting pay could discourage low- and modest-income residents from seeking office.

As of next year, legislator salaries will drop to $95,291 for anyone who starts a new term.

The cuts came courtesy of a commission that sets salaries for state politicians. It also cut per diem and auto allowances by the same amount, 18 percent, although there’s dispute over whether the commission can legally do that.

According to the Bee, one commission board member pointed out that the per diem payments can add up to $30,000-$35,000 a year:

They don’t have to fill out expense forms to justify anything,” she added. She said she believes it’s possible to get a room and meals in Sacramento for less than $173 a day.

Days Inn, Comfort Suites and La Quinta Inn hotels within two miles of the capitol were running for $65-$99 a night this week, plus tax.

One last note: I followed up by asking Ward whether Block takes the full $173-per-day payment or only asks for reimbursement for specific expenses. I haven’t heard back yet, but will provide an update when I do.

— RANDY DOTINGA

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