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Getting up to speed on travel
Reimbursement on the radar this session

Originally Published in Statewise Fall 2009

by Jerell Lambert

Changes to in-state per diems were among the several pieces of travel legislation passed during the 81st Legislature, Regular Session, affecting state employee travel reimbursements.

With 28 years experience, Fiscal Management’s seasoned travel expert, James Ramirez of Expenditure Assistance, helps us with the lay of the land on travel legislation passed.

No more separate per diems

In the 2008–09 General Appropriations Act (GAA), there are separate travel per diems for in-state and out-of-state travel. For travel in Texas, the rate has been $85 for lodging and $36 for meals. For out-of-state travel, the federal government's per diem schedule is used, and the amount varies from location to location.

“For the 2010–11 GAA, the language was taken out that set apart in-state and out-of-state per diems,” Ramirez says. “Texas in-state travelers can now use the federal Domestic Per Diem Rates calculator on the GSA website to figure all their per diems.”

For example, the current federal reimbursement rate in Houston is $110 for lodging and $59 for meals. For Corpus Christi, the rate is $89 for lodging and $44 for meals. For Texas locations not listed on the GSA site, the rate will be $85 for lodging and $36 for meals. Note that agencies may choose to set lower reimbursement rates than the maximum allowable.

Safety first

“House Bill 605 did two things. The first was dealing with the issue of safest vs. most cost-effective route as it relates to mileage reimbursement eligibility,” Ramirez says. “The second was to eliminate the requirement to publish the Texas Mileage Guide.”

Under current law, mileage reimbursement does not specifically account for employee safety in route planning by state employees traveling on state business. Employees have to plan the most cost-effective route, even if safety is a concern.

For travel on or after Jan. 1, 2010, the law will specify that miles incurred using “the most cost-effective reasonably safe route” are eligible for mileage reimbursement.

Also effective Jan. 1, 2010, HB 605 deletes language from statute requiring the Comptroller to “periodically issue and update a mileage guide.” In lieu of the Texas Mileage Guide, state employees may calculate the number of miles traveled by using their vehicle odometer reading or a readily available electronic mapping service designated by the agency or institution of higher education.

“State agencies can already use free electronic search engines and mapping services such as Google or Rand McNally to calculate point-to-point mileage,” Ramirez says. “The only thing we require is that agencies be consistent. If your agency wants to use Google, everybody at the agency has to use Google.”

For more information, see Transportation: Mileage in Personal Vehicle in Textravel.

Off the paper trail

Senate Bill 745 allowed for the separation of accounting information from trip and documentation information.

This facilitates a move towards electronic processing and, in turn, allows for greater efficiency in the use of agency time and resources while providing an environmentally friendly option to paper vouchers. “This is really an improvement — now we're moving into the 21st century,” Ramirez says. “What I see in the future is you'll go online for the whole travel process, from booking flight reservations all the way through the voucher approval process. This is happening at the federal level already. Even reimbursement can be done electronically.”

For questions on travel expenditures, contact your agency's travel contact or call the Expenditure Assistance section at (512) 475-0966.