During the 2017 legislative session, Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, collected thousands of dollars in per diem payments meant to offset the cost of maintaining a second residence in Boise, despite the fact that her husband lives less than 20 miles from the statehouse.
A Post Register public records request reveals that throughout the session, Trujillo was collecting $129 per day in per diem payments. Lawmakers with residences in Ada County also are offered a per diem, but at the lower level of $49 per day.
So over the 80-day session, Trujillo collected $6,400 more by taking the $129 per diem instead of the $49 per diem — an amount totaling more than a third of a lawmaker’s base salary of just more than $17,000.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Trujillo were married in December, just before the beginning of the legislative session. Moyle lives in Star, a small town in northwestern Ada County, and his listed address is about 16 miles by road from the statehouse.
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Trujillo refused to say where she was living during the session or whether she was paying rent.
“I’m not Rep. Moyle, and I don’t live 20 miles from the capitol,” Trujillo said when reached by phone Monday. “I serve Idaho Falls. I live in Idaho Falls. I take the per diem that is allowed for people who live outside (Ada County).”
Trujillo said she did have other expenses related to maintaining a household away from her primary residence in Idaho Falls.
“You’re trying to make a story where there isn’t one,” Trujillo said.
On March 18, a Saturday near the end of the session, Trujillo posted a picture on Facebook, with the status “feeling fantastic with Mike Moyle.” The photo was apparently taken near Moyle’s ranch facing the sunrise over the Boise foothills.
“Good morning from my little piece of heaven,” she wrote.
Efforts Monday to reach Moyle were unsuccessful.
Under the Idaho Constitution and Idaho State Code, the compensation rules for lawmakers are drawn up by the Citizens’ Committee on Legislative Compensation, a group of non-lawmakers. John Goedde is a former state senator from Coeur d’Alene who serves on the committee.
“The intent of two-tiered (per diem) compensation was to reimburse those people who live away from Boise for their lodging (during the session),” Goedde said.
So if Trujillo was living with Moyle rent-free but collecting the full per diem, Goedde said, it would side-step the intent, if not the letter, of compensation rules.
“It violates the intent of the two-tiered system,” he said.
Trujillo said lawyers would disagree with Goedde, and that the per diem payments she received are similar to those collected by other lawmakers in similar situations.
It’s not the first time in recent years that concerns have been raised about lawmakers skirting the intent of per diem rules. In 2011, an Associated Press story revealed that Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, and Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, were both collecting the higher per diem, even though McGee was staying with his parents in Boise and McKenzie was sleeping in his Boise law office.
McGee simply said he qualified for the higher per diem. McKenzie defended taking the higher per diem, saying that if he weren’t sleeping in his law office, he could have rented a cheaper office without room for a couch to spend the night on.
Asked about McKenzie and McGee’s per diem payments by the AP in 2011, Moyle responded: “I don’t think it smells good; I don’t think it looks good; and if it were one of my members, I would highly advise against it.”