The Alaska State Capitol, pictured Jan. 21, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The Alaska State Capitol, pictured Jan. 21, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Lawmakers slash own pay

Lawmakers in the Alaska House on Thursday voted to slash their own pay.

Members of the House voted 34-5 to cut legislators’ pay by almost $14,000 apiece, a move that promises to save the state about $852,000 per year.

The idea was proposed by Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage, as an amendment to the state’s operating budget.

“Effectively, this is about a $14,000 cut to my salary,” Grenn said while introducing the amendment.

The public has been demanding lawmakers to cut their own budgets before asking individual citizens for taxes or Permanent Fund Dividend reductions.

The cut will become effective only if the Senate and Gov. Bill Walker also approve. Even if that happens, the cut represents less than 1/2700th of the state’s budget deficit.

“It’s an amazing turn of events,” said Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, had introduced a similar proposal in the House Finance Committee, but her idea was rejected by members of the coalition House majority.

“Today was ironic. That amendment that was on the floor was my amendment. It failed in finance,” Wilson said. “The same ones that voted no last time voted yes.”

The issue of per diem payments has been a hot one in the House, where a panel voted to cut the payments, only to see their decision reversed by the co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer.

In addition to their $50,400 annual salary, state lawmakers receive a per diem payment — money for housing, food and travel expenses — while they work in session. Lawmakers don’t get overtime, but they do get per diem every day during session, even during special session.

The payments are $213 per day for lawmakers who don’t live in Juneau and $160 per day for the three lawmakers who live in Juneau.

Grenn proposed cutting those payments by three-quarters. (Wilson had the same idea, but she also proposed eliminating every bit of the Juneau payments.)

Grenn voted against Wilson’s idea but turned around and offered it on the floor.

“I didn’t believe it was the proper place,” he said after the floor vote. “I wanted all 40 members to have a voice … I would rather have a discussion with all 40 of us.”

Capitol Creep

That discussion was a long one: Lawmakers spent almost three hours considering the idea of moving the capitol from Juneau to elsewhere, and members of the Republican House Minority suggested three amendments to the idea.

The most notable came from Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, who attempted to call for the Legislature to move to a location on the road system.

Saddler’s proposal asked the Legislative Council (a body that makes decisions on the operations of the Legislature) to plan a legislative move to a location on the road system and to forbid per-diem payments for legislators who live within 50 miles of the new session.

Saddler refused to answer questions about whether his proposal would end up costing the state more than it saved in per diem payments. He walked away from this reporter when asked.

Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, was visibly upset by the proposal.

“I’m trying to stay sensitive to keeping civil,” he said, then pointed out that Alaskans have repeatedly rejected attempts to move the Capitol from Juneau, largely over the high cost of a move.

“You’d have to incur an additional expense,” said Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, agreed, ruling Saddler’s proposal out of order and not germaine to the discussion on per diem payments.

Before lawmakers cast the final vote, Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, warned that even though cutting per-diem payments might save the state some money, it’s likely to harm the economy of Juneau — where most of the per diem money is spent.

“I can’t imagine an amendment that’s going to be more harmful for the Juneau economy than this one,” he said.

His comment came minutes after the capitol move idea was nixed.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.


 

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