WASHINGTON – Maryland’s congressional delegation spent $6.7 million in 1999 to run their offices, well within their authorized budget of $7.4 million.
None of the eight Marylanders in the House overdrew their “representational allowance,” spending between 80 and 96 percent of their allotted amount, according to the House of Representatives Chief Administrative Officer.
Fiscal conservative Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, spent the most money of any Maryland member, $907,530, while self-described “tax-and-spend” liberal Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, spent the least, with expenses totaling $744,371.
The annual allowance varies among House members, and is determined by distance of their districts from Washington, the price of postage and office rent. The tax-funded allowance covers the costs of operating Washington and district offices, paying staff, communicating with constituents and traveling to and from their districts.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, got the largest Maryland allowance last year, with a budget of $952,285. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, received $922,394, the lowest Maryland amount.
A Gilchrest spokesman said the size of the allowance is largely due to the size of Gilchrest’s district and the distance to its farthest-flung points from the capital.
“Your allowance is based on the district’s distance from D.C.,” said Tony Caligiuri, the spokesman. “Gilchrest lives farther than any other member.”
Bartlett, who represents the sprawling 6th District covering Western Maryland, received the second-highest 1999 allowance at $943,567.
“We represent one of the largest districts in Maryland,” said Lisa Wright, a Bartlett spokeswoman. “We also have four district offices to serve our constituents, which not all members have.”
Another Bartlett spokeswoman, Sally Taylor, said the congressman — who received a 98 percent rating in 1996 from the National Tax Limitation Committee — always exercises an option of returning any surplus to the Treasury to help pay down the debt. His largest surplus came in 1997, when he returned 17 percent of his budget, she said.
By contrast, Hoyer received a 17 percent rating in 1996 from the NTLC for his voting record. But a spokeswoman said Hoyer, who once said on the House floor that he is proud to be a tax and spend liberal, is always careful with spending.
Except for last year, when he used the extra funds in his allocation to upgrade the office computer system, he usually returns any surplus. Gilchrest said he also typically returns any surplus to the Treasury.
“Congressman Hoyer is very frugal with taxpayer money,” said Debra De Shong, the spokeswoman. “We’re very responsible with our money.”
Besides spending the least amount, Hoyer also spent the smallest share of his $936,009 allowance, just under 80 percent. Bartlett and Cummings tied for the highest-percentage spending among Maryland House members, at 96 percent.
The National Taxpayers Union, which has tracked the office spending numbers since they were first published in 1994, said the majority of members fall within a 90 to 92 percent spending range. But lawmakers could still be more frugal, said a spokesman.
“We believe there’s significant room for restraining,” said Peter Sepp, the spokesman. “There’s definitely room to cut beyond that 90 percent threshold.”
Sepp said that from 1995 to 1997, between 10 and 15 members a year would spend over their limits, while the thriftiest member spent only 65 percent of his allowance.
“It isn’t rocket science, they know how much they have.” Sepp said. “If they’re watching the budget of the country, it should be no problem keeping track of their own budget.”
Specific categories of the budget include official postage and printing for mailings, travel to and from the district, staff compensation, rent, phones and utilities for offices, and office supplies and equipment.
While most Maryland members claimed travel expenses below $4,000, Gilchrest racked up $17,760 in travel expenses. He said that is largely due to the mileage he accumulates traveling his large Eastern Shore district.
“Our district covers such a wide area,” Gilchrest said. “Lengthwise it stretches from Pennsylvania to Virginia which is about a four-hour drive.”
Hoyer billed the lowest travel expenses, claiming only $31 for travel to his Southern Maryland district.
Sepp said while travel is usually not a problem, he keeps careful watch over postage fees, the category that most often sends members over their limit. Representatives are not supposed to use the allowance to send out campaign literature, but Sepp said mailings always increase during an election year.
“The postage component could be especially tightened,” he said. “Often times members will send out very self-congratulatory mailings to increase constituent goodwill.”
Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, spent the most on postage, $72,419, while Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, spent the least at $6,577.
Sepp said another wide variance usually comes in rent and utilities, with district offices in urban areas costing more than offices in rural places.
For Maryland’s members, Cummings spent the most on rent with $106,665 in expenses while Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, spent the least at $70,213.