WASHINGTON Members of Congress from New York City may trumpet the millions of federal taxpayer dollars they secure for the five boroughs each year, but when it comes to spending for their own offices, they are a far thriftier bunch.
Through the first nine months of 2007, the 13 lawmakers in the city's delegation were all on pace to spend well below their annual congressional allowance, records show, with Reps. Yvette Clarke and Anthony Weiner easily defeating their colleagues in the race for most frugal.
Veteran Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney spent the most, owing to the higher rents for their Manhattan district offices and the more than $150,000 in annual salary they pay to their longtime top aides.
Expenditures for each member's office are published in quarterly "statements of disbursement," which disclose everything from how much lawmakers spend on bottled water (hundreds) and plane tickets the $79 shuttle to La Guardia is popular to how well they pay their staff and their varied tastes in cars. Mr. Weiner, for example, rented on the cheap, leasing a 2004 Chevy Impala for $219 a month for district use in Queens and Brooklyn. "It isn't fancy, but it does the trick," a spokesman, Eric Koch, said.
Rep. Gregory Meeks of Queens, on the other hand, sprung for a 2007 Lexus at $1,000 a month.
The top paid staffers in the delegation were Rep. Gary Ackerman's chief of staff, Jedd Moskowitz, and the longtime counsel for Rep. Charles Rangel, George Dalley. Each made nearly $160,000, just shy of the House cap. Rules prohibit staffers from earning more than their bosses, whose base salary is $165,000 a year.
Mr. Moskowitz's salary for the first three quarters of 2007 represented nearly 15% of Mr. Ackerman's total expenditure for the period, which at about $800,000 was one of the lowest in the delegation. The congressman said he puts a premium on top personnel. "When we get quality people, you get the job done better and it costs less money," Mr. Ackerman said. "That's why we save a lot of money in the office." Mr. Rangel said Mr. Dalley, like several members of his congressional staff, has worked for him for more than 30 years and chose to remain in public service despite the opportunity to earn more money in the private sector.
"When you see what he did make in the private sector related to what he made here, there's no question that he's underpaid," he said of Mr. Dalley.
Mrs. Maloney, of Manhattan and Queens, and Mr. Nadler, who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, also pay top staffers more than $150,000.
Annual allowances for lawmaker offices are determined by the Committee on House Administration and vary by the district. Members in districts with a high cost of living receive a larger allowance, as do lawmakers who hail from regions where the cost of travel to and from Washington is greater. In New York City, the allowances range from about $1.3 million for Rep. Vito Fossella of Staten Island and Rep. Jose Serrano of the Bronx to just over $1.5 million for Mr. Nadler and Mrs. Maloney.
Ms. Clarke spent $630,000 for the first three quarters of the year, less than half her annual allotment. For the first-term congresswoman, the low total owed in large part to the time it took her to set up her office. She carried a skeleton staff for the early months and worked out of temporary office space that cost much less than the $6,000 a month she now pays to rent her district office in Brooklyn.
Mr. Weiner, now serving his fifth term, spent $765,000 over the same period, and the reason for his low number is less clear. "The congressman is thrifty" was Mr. Koch's explanation.
Delegation staffers caution that a low disbursement total for the early months in the year is not always an indication of tighter spending. Offices sometimes delay major purchases a new copying machine, for example or costly campaign-style newsletter mailings until the end of the year. Lawmakers rarely spend much less than their annual allowance, aides said. And they almost never exceed them, for one simple reason: Members who break their budgets must pay the difference out of their own pockets.
On the committee level, Mr. Rangel has also set a modest spending pace in his first year as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Under his leadership, expenses have dropped 8.5% from the same period last year under the Republican stewardship of Rep. William Thomas of California. The Harlem congressman laughed off the suggestion of his frugality, saying the real reason for the spending dip was a cut in legislative budgets.
That has apparently not extended to the House leadership, where the new Democratic speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, and the Republican leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, each spent considerably more money during the first nine months of 2007 than their predecessors a year earlier.