Democratic State Senatorial candidate Debbie Matthews is taking aim at incumbent state Sen. Bill Ketron (R-13) for taking what she says is $65,000 of tax payer money for hotels and other expenses.
In a press conference held Tuesday in front of the Sheraton Hotel near Legislative Plaza in Nashville, Matthews called Ketron's per diem filings an abuse of the system and pledged to not take per diems for lodging if elected.
"In a time when money is tight and people are tightening their belts at home, folks are looking for leaders that are willing to do the same," Matthews told members of the media.
Per diems are given to lawmakers to cover hotel lodging and other travel expenses associated with their legislative duties. Matthews said Ketron's filings for per diems are excessive considering he lives 35 minutes from the capitol.
"I live in Columbia, 46 miles from the state capitol in Nashville and I do not need to receive taxpayer reimbursement for hotel expenses when I live such a close distance to Legislative Plaza," Matthews said.
Ketron has a different view of what per diems are for and says Matthews will have a hard time convincing 131 other legislators to do the same.
"It's a supplement to the annual salary that legislators are paid," Ketron told the Murfreesboro Post. "Several years ago, before I got here, no one was willing to bring forward a bill to increase legislator's pay."
Ketron said legislators are all paid a roughly $18,000 annual salary and use the per diem to make up what they are really worth.
Ketron declined to join Matthews in her pledge to spare tax payers the extra expense.
"I don't know what she means by excessive, and I'm not going to try to match her without knowing what she's saying," Ketron said.
Matthews also said Ketron charged tax payers $2,600 for a recent week long "junket" trip to Washington D.C. in December. Ketron says the trips are necessary and end up saving the tax payer money.
"Junkets to me are going to Tupelo or Las Vegas for the weekend," Ketron told the Post. "I went to D.C. last December for five days and learned about other bills in other states that I brought here."
A couple of examples of tested legislation Ketron says he brought back to Tennessee are bills dealing with illegal immigration and penalties for employers who hire them. Another was a bill to alert victims when a perpetrator is being released from prison.
Matthews faces Ketron in the November General Election. Matthews has served as the Ward 2 Columbia City Councilwoman since 2007.