25 Investigates gets action: Lawmakers pay back taxpayers

By: Eric Rasmussen , Erin Smith

Updated:

BOSTON -- State lawmakers have been forced to pay back thousands of dollars they owed taxpayers – a payback that comes after 25 Investigates exposed how legislators were still collecting cash for their commutes to the State House – when the perk had already ended.

The big payback comes after Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen broke the story that two dozen state representatives and senators were still billing the public for their commutes well after Jan. 4 – when the payouts were supposed to stop.

The state Treasurer’s Office tells 25 Investigates it took back $8,000 it never should have paid to legislators – docking the cash directly from lawmakers’ most recent paychecks on Friday.

For years state lawmakers have collected cash for their State House commutes – between $10 and $100 a day depending on how far they had to go. All that was supposed to end on Jan. 4, according to the new law that also gave lawmakers a big, multi-million dollar pay raise.

>>PREVIOUS25 Investigates: Lawmakers charge taxpayers for commutes after perk ended

But a 25 Investigates review found some lawmakers kept billing taxpayers for days and weeks after the so-called per diem program ended – and the state Treasurer’s Office kept paying them.

State Rep. Russell Holmes of Boston said last month that he thought he was following the rules and agreed to pay the money back after 25 Investigates’ findings.

“I kept track up until February because that’s when I think I was told that you could no longer put per diems in,” said Holmes, who tracked his State House comings and goings on an office wall calendar.

State Rep. James Kelcourse, a Republican from Newburyport, insisted he didn’t bill taxpayers for his commutes after the law changed.

Kelcourse provided 25 Investigates with an email chain from February that showed he asked a staffer at the state Treasurer’s Office “when the per diem goes away.”

The email shows that the staffer told Kelcourse the office would be processing per diems through Jan. 31.

Kelcourse has declined requests to speak with 25 Investigates on camera about the payments he received for his commutes he made after Jan. 4 and did not respond to questions, including why the representative – who is also a lawyer – asked the state Treasurer’s Office for advice on the new law.

A spokeswoman for Massachusetts Treasurer Deb Goldberg now acknowledges the office had the “wrong information” and they have since “rectified the situation.”

>>RELATED25 Investigates: Lawmakers billed taxpayers for bogus commutes

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