That's a paltry sum compared to the savings in 2010, when senators purposefully cut their budgets with reforms that included limiting printing and postage. Ultimately, senators saved $1.3 million in 2010 over 2009.
Senators can spend taxpayer money on their office operations as they see fit based on the needs of their districts, though there are some restrictions, such as limits on how many periodical subscriptions they can buy. Some senators spend more on printing or bulk mail to constituents; others pay for multiple district offices.
At the beginning of legislative session, the Senate collectively decides on a spending limit for staff salaries and travel, which in 2011 was $35,625 monthly. All other expenses must be approved by the secretary of the Senate, Patsy Spaw.
According to an expense report from Spaw, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, spent more than any other senator for the third year in a row. His total expenses were $571,000 in 2011. The next-highest spender, fellow Houston Democratic Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr., spent $52,000 less than Ellis.
"I'm not ashamed that my communication expenses are higher than other offices," Ellis said in an email to the Tribune. "Many of the issues I fight for on behalf of working families do not have paid lobbyists, so we have to do outreach to advance policies that help the middle class and lower-income Texans."
Ellis' operating expenses alone were some $34,000 greater than any other senator's. That's mainly because of the $93,000 he spent on rent for his district office in downtown Houston. In comparison, Gallegos spent about $56,000 on rent for his district office in Galena Park. Ellis said he chose the downtown location because it's "readily accessible" to his constituents by mass transit, car, bike or foot.
"I am trying to get the landlord to reduce the rent when the lease expires," he said.
To continue reading and for an interactive spending chart from the last three years, click here.