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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 18.0° F  Overcast
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Will Wisconsin lawmakers share the pain?

Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Beaver Dam) makes it perfectly clear who is going to feel the impact of impending state budget cuts. "Everybody is going to have to pitch in this go-around," he says.

But who is everybody? We already know that everybody includes state employee unions, who took their big hit three weeks before Scott Walker took the governor's oath of office. We later learned that everybody also includes those Department of Commerce employees who could lose their jobs as Walker puts together his new public-private organization to replace this state agency.

But does everybody include those same legislators who will be calling many of the budgetary shots? In the most recent year, state taxpayers are shelling out $143 million on legislative operations.

In an interview, Jeff Fitzgerald promises to share the pain.

"The key to having any credibility is whatever I ask state workers to do, I have to do that," he says. "If state workers are [taking] 16 furlough days, I'm taking them, too, even though we don't have to. I encourage the [Republican] caucus to do the same."

Members of the Assembly and the Senate are paid $49,943 per year. But they also are blessed with several other financial perks. Those outside of Dane County receive an $88 per diem for every day they are in Madison for legislative business; those within Dane County get half that amount.

Lawmakers also get 48.5 cents per mile for one round-trip between their district and Madison per week. And they are eligible for health insurance coverage from 20 different plans around the state at a cost, to them, of usually well below $200 per month.

It's not likely that legislators will push to cut their per diem or mileage rate, or pay more for health insurance. But in some cases, they may do it on their own.

Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) lives in Green Lake County but took 47 per diem days at the Dane County rate of $44 through November, or half of what she was eligible for.

Legislative leaders share prominently in the per diem payments. Fred Risser (D-Madison), the former president of the Senate, claimed $8,184 through November at $44 for 186 working days at the Capitol. Russ Decker, the former Senate majority leader who lost his reelection bid, said he was at the Capitol on legislative business 135 days through November, worth $11,880 in per diem money.

Of those surveyed, the top per diem moneymaker in the Senate was Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), who was paid $15,132 for 172 days. Brother Jeff brought in $11,968 for 136 days of business.

"It's always a unique kind of position that comes in a unique kind of territory," Scott Fitzgerald answered when asked what the Legislature can contribute in the upcoming season of cuts. "But no one is getting rich at this job."

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