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)

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

Gov. Mike Dunleavy finalized a week of moves by politicians that have been harshly criticized by taking the final required step Monday to allow a 67% increase in state legislative salaries, as well as a roughly 20% increase in his own pay and that of other top executive branch officials.

Dunleavy vetoed a bill rejecting the raises, which was unanimously passed by legislators earlier this month when they weren’t included in the pay hikes recommended in a report by a five-member commission. Dunleavy then appointed an entirely new commission last week — after removing three members and the other two resigned — which during a 15-minute meeting with scant advance notice unanimously added the legislative raises to the report. Legislative leader submitted two of the names Dunleavy appointed.

“The Commission’s amended March 16 report found that compensation for the Executive Branch have not kept up with the 2% annual cost of inflation and recommended new compensation amounts,” Jeff Turner, the governor’s deputy director of communications, wrote in a prepared statement. “Alaska’s 15 state commissioners are all leaders in their career fields and can receive higher salaries in the private sector. They serve out of a strong sense of duty and public service. To continue attracting the best and brightest Alaskans to manage state departments, Governor Dunleavy believes salary increases for commissioners that offset the impact of inflation are appropriate.”

The politicians and commission members were harshly criticized in traditional and social media by many Alaska residents and officials reacting to the raises. Twitter messages such as “give themselves astronomical raises while ripping off the PFD from the people” were typical.

But plenty of officials — including board members replaced by Dunleavy — argued the pay hikes were merited on purely a financial basis (even if some questioned the process used) since the last raise for legislators was in 2010 and for the governor in 2011.

“We are doing our state a huge disservice by not properly compensating these public servants shaping policy for our entire state,” Heidi Drygas, executive director of the Alaska State Employees Association, wrote in a message on her Twitter account. “We want and deserve the best of the best. Not just folks who are independently wealthy, retired, or left to struggle in order to serve.”

However, the leader of the union representing about 8,000 state employees added, “I believe strongly that almost every public servant need a raise. I will work until my dying breath to ensure public employees get paid what they deserve.”

Current salaries are arguably below average for the governor and legislators compared to other states.

Dunleavy’s current salary of $145,000 ranked 28th among governors in 2021 and his new salary of $176,000 — based on a 2% annual increase since the last raise — would rank 10th during that year (other governors’ salaries may now be higher as well).

Legislators will see their existing $50,400 salary — which ranked 12th among states in 2022, but below the $82,258 average among the 10 states including Alaska with full-time legislatures — increase to $84,000. All 60 members except the three residing in Juneau also get $307 in untaxed per diem while in session, which totals slightly more than $37,000 during a 121-day session (per diem is also paid in many other states, at rates slightly to drastically below Alaska’s).

The governor’s veto also means the lieutenant governor’s salary will increase about 10% to roughly $140,000 and department commissioners — whose last increase was in 2015 — about 20% to $168,000.

The raises are automatically enacted unless lawmakers pass a bill rejecting them within 60 days of the commission presenting its report to the Legislature, which due to last week’s meeting means a May 15 deadline. The higher paychecks would begin July 1 for executive branch employees and next January for legislators.

“This is the last hurdle only if the Legislature refuses to act,” wrote Dermot Cole, a longtime reporter who now publishes the blog Reporting From Alaska. “Dunleavy made a mockery of the public process.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 25

Here’s what to expect this week.

Wreath bearers present wreaths for fallen comrades, brothers and sisters in arms during a Memorial Day ceremony at Alaskan Memorial Park on Monday. Laying wreaths on the graves of fallen heroes is a way to honor and remember the sacrifices made. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
Traditional Memorial Day ceremonies offer new ways to ‘never forget’ those who served

New installations at memorial sites, fresh words of reminder shared by hundreds gathering in Juneau.

Thunder Mountain High School graduates celebrate after moving their tassels to the left, their newly received diplomas in hand, at the end of Sunday’s commencement ceremony. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
‘Forever a Falcon’: Thunder Mountain High School celebrates final graduating class

147 seniors get soaring sendoff during 16th annual commencement full of heightened emotions.

Seniors at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé enter the gymnasium for their commencement ceremony on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
JDHS graduates celebrate journey from virtual ‘pajama class’ freshmen to virtuous camaraderie

Resolve in overcoming struggles a lifelong lesson for future, seniors told at commencement ceremony.

Sierra Guerro-Flores (right) listens to her advisor Electra Gardinier after being presented with her diploma at Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduation ceremony Sunday in the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Alternatives are vast for Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School’s graduating class

31 students take center stage during ceremony revisiting their paths at the school and what’s next.

The LeConte state ferry in 2023. (Lex Treinen / Chilkat Valley News)
Stranded Beerfest travelers scramble to rebook after LeConte ferry breakdown

Loss of 225-passenger ferry leaves many Juneau-bound revelers looking for other ways home.

A photo taken from the terminal roof shows the extent of the first phase of paving to accommodate large aircraft. (Mike Greene / City and Borough of Juneau)
Large-scale repaving project plants itself at Juneau International Airport

Work may take two to three years, schedule seeks to limit impact on operations.

Capital Transit buses wait to depart from the downtown transit center on Thursday. Route number 8 was adjusted this spring. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
More service, visitor information helping Capital Transit to keep up with extra cruise passenger traffic

Remedies made after residents unable to board full buses last year seem to be working, officials say

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, May 23, 2024

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

Most Read