Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File 
This photo shows the Alaska State Capitol. A committee proposed increasing pay for state lawmakers.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File This photo shows the Alaska State Capitol. A committee proposed increasing pay for state lawmakers.

Panel proposes higher Alaska lawmaker pay, allowance change

From $50,400 to $64,000.

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

A commission tasked with making recommendations for state legislative pay advanced a proposal Tuesday to raise the annual salary for Alaska lawmakers from $50,400 to $64,000 and place limits on the daily allowance lawmakers receive.

The State Officer Compensation Commission, as part of a 3-1 vote, called for capping the allowance known as per diem at $100 a day and making the allowance reimbursement-based. Currently, lawmakers who do not live in Juneau are entitled to session per diem of $293 per day.

The commission is charged with reviewing salaries and allowances at least once every two years. Members plan to meet Jan. 18 to finalize their recommendations, which would go to the Legislature and by law take effect next year unless a bill rejecting the commission recommendations is enacted within 60 days of their submission.

Jessica Geary, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, told The Associated Press that typically “a receipt-based reimbursement system takes substantial staff time and may require an increase in staffing levels. We will want to see the full final proposal before responding definitively.”

Board members voting in favor of the recommendations were Kurt Olson, a former state representative; Carrigan Grigsby and Johnny Ellis, a former state senator who described his vote as reluctant. Ellis said he thought the proposed base salary of $64,000 was too low.

Member Lee Cruise voted against the recommendations. He previously proposed keeping the base salary at $50,400 and capping what could be claimed annually in per diem at $12,000.

On Tuesday, as debate wore on, he said if it were up to him, he would maintain the current base salary and cap per diem at $15,000 a year. But for the sake of negotiation said he would support raising the base salary to $64,000 if per diem was limited to $12,000 a year. Cruise said that approach to per diem would encourage lawmakers to finish their work within the constitutional window for regular sessions.

Cruise earlier said he was trying to keep lawmakers “accountable to the people” and conscientious of their expenses in Juneau.

The state Constitution allows for regular sessions of up to 121 days, with the potential to extend for an additional 10.

Per diem has been a hot topic in recent years amid drawn-out regular sessions and often multiple special sessions. The allowance is intended to help with costs related to living part of the year in Juneau. In each 2017 and 2021, there were four special sessions.

All the special sessions last year were called by the governor.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat, said most legislators want to “get the work done” and go home.

In comments submitted to the commission, he asked members to consider as part of their deliberations reimbursing legislators’ actual costs of lodging and a “reasonable rate” for meals and incidental expenses rather than a flat annual cap.

“If the commission only sets an annual dollar limit, it hands future governors a financial club to swing at the legislature by threatening to keep them in special sessions — paid out of their own pockets,” he wrote.

Alaska has a citizen legislature, meaning some lawmakers have jobs outside of being senators or representatives. Sen. Mike Shower, a Wasilla Republican, is a pilot.

In written comments, Shower said existing per diem is too high. He said he would propose a reduction “but in a way which allows regular citizens the opportunity to serve and not put their family into financial distress.”

Cruise at one point singled out Shower and said if Shower “wants to make more, he can stop being a representative and continue being a pilot and make significantly more.”

More in News

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014.
Aurora Forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of March. 19

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year during a press conference at the Alaska State Capitol in December 2022. A lower-than-expected revenue forecast is raising questions about what the state's spending plan will ultimately look like. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Lower revenue forecast increases budget woes for state lawmakers

Coming up with a spending plan for next year and beyond will be a complex series of negotiations.

Office Max at the Nugget Mall in the Mendenhall Valley advertised Permanent Fund dividend sales in July 2020. Alaskans have until the end of the month to apply for the PFD. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
PFD application deadline is next week

Amount in flux as state revenue forecasts lower than expected.

This is a photo of the current site plan of the proposed Capital Civic Center. On Monday night the Assembly authorized $5 million to go toward the project that is expected to cost $75 million. (City and Borough of Juneau)
City OKs $5M toward proposed Capital Civic Center

The money is intended to show the city’s commitment to the project as it seeks federal funding

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, March 21, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This September 2015, photo provided by NOAA Fisheries shows an aerial view of adult female Southern Resident killer whale (J16) swimming with her calf (J50). New research suggests that inbreeding may be a key reason that the Pacific Northwest’s endangered population of killer whales has failed to recover despite decades of conservation efforts. The so-called “southern resident” population of orcas stands at 73 whales. That’s just two more than in 1971, after scores of the whales were captured for display in marine theme parks around the world. (NOAA Fisheries / Vancouver Aquarium)
The big problem for endangered orcas? Inbreeding

Southern resident killer whales haven’t regularly interbred with other populations in 30 generations.

Juneau Brass Quintet co-founding member Bill Paulick along with Stephen Young performs “Shepherd’s Hey” to a packed house at the Alaska State Museum on Saturday as part of the quintet’s season-ending performance. Friends of the Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum sponsored the event with proceeds going to the musicians and FoSLAM. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Top brass turns out for event at State Museum

Free performance puts a capt on a busy season.

Alaska’s state legislators are slated to get the equivalent of 6,720 additional $5 bills in their salary next year via a $33,600 raise to a total of $84,000 due to a veto Monday by Gov. Mike Dunleavy of bill rejecting raises for legislative and executive branch employees. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, File)
Veto negates rejection of pay hikes for governor, legislators

Dunleavy clears way for 67% hike in legislative pay, 20% in his to take effect in coming months

Most Read