Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Senators’ Cell Phones

Cell phone bills are expensive. Everyone owns one. Everyone cringes at that monthly bill. But for a family of 4, a bill with unlimited texting, insurance, and 700 shared minutes costs around $200 per month. Washington State Senator Jerome Delvin’s bill? $382.75. In one month. And guess who pays Senator Delvin’s bill? You and I, the taxpayers.

Apparently, Senator Delvin’s usual cell phone bills are $180 and above each month. This one particular month’s bill, recently submitted for payment, was significantly higher. When questioned, he said that his bills are higher when he travels and that, perhaps, he should reevaluate his current plan with AT&T. The taxpayers, I’m sure, would agree.

These records are publicly available, though difficult in some cases to obtain. Delvin isn’t the only lawmaker charging the public for outrageous cellphone bills. For example, Senator Adam Kline, D-Seattle, has submitted and received compensation for a family plan that includes his wife. When asked about it, he commented that this was an error and would be corrected.

Lawmakers all over the country are racking up bills of a minimum of $130 or more per month. This is interesting when major companies are offering plans with unlimited talk and text with large amounts of data for around $100 plus applicable fees and taxes.

The problem seems to lie in the blurry line between business and personal use. House members are told to determine their legislative usage versus their personal and campaign usage for reimbursement. Legislators are required to provide receipts when reimbursement bills exceed $75. Interestingly, some of these lawmakers interpret this to mean that they may submit $74.99 for their cell phone use and then a separate $50 for their data plan, dodging the $74.99 rule. It isn’t surprising to find that Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom also received reimbursement for over $300 for an iPhone in 2011.

What is the answer? Senator Don Benton, R-Vancouver, has introduced some legislation to reduce overspending on cell phone bills by state agencies. Unfortunately, this law will not apply to lawmakers, because the phones are considered necessary for their jobs and their phones are not issued by the state. Yes, Benton bills the state $150 per month for his cell phone.

There is, of course, the simplest solution of all. Senators purchase their own personal cell phones and plans and use them as they wish. If they need to make calls or use Internet service, they can go to their office and do just that. For as long as they want. Like they did before they had cell phones. If this doesn’t work, how about buying no-contract phones for the Senators each month with 200 minutes (including talk, text, web, and email) for $29.99 and each month they get topped off? Then they can limit and monitor their usage just like the rest of us.

Yes, these might affect their scores on Words with Friends or shorten their conversations with potential campaign donors. But it sure would make them more aware of how their constituents manage… and make them more accountable.

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