A week after filing a bill that would prohibit legislators from collecting per diem when not in the capital, Rep. Harriet Drummond has pledged to return some of her own daily allowance. The Democrat will fly home for Anchorage caucus this weekend.
“I think I should put my money where my mouth is,” said Drummond at a Tuesday press availability, before asking her aide to hand over her purse. “I’m getting paid $237 a day, and I’ll be gone for three days. And I’m going to write a check for $771 to Alaska’s Best Beginnings program.”
Which amounts to three days per diem, plus a little extra.
Drummond believes her check is needed because the state is facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, and programs — like the early education one to which she will donate — are likely to face budget cuts. Drummond says legislators should have to share some of that burden.
“I’ll be sleeping in my own bed, and cooking in my own kitchen,” says Drummond. “Yet I’m being paid $237 for each of those days to be in Juneau.”
Right now, Legislators are paid out their per diem for food and lodging, in bulk, at the beginning of session. Drummond’s bill would require changes to the way allowance money is accounted. Her bill does not make exceptions for travel with a legislative purpose or for personal emergencies.
House Speaker Mike Chenault, a Nikiski Republican, sees a practical problem with the bill. He says even if people are traveling away from Juneau on work or personal business, there are still basic costs lawmakers have to cover.
“My rent doesn’t stop down here. My landlord doesn’t say don’t worry about paying that rent for the five days that you’re gone,” says Chenault.
Chenault adds that a per diem of $237 is a rate set by the federal government.
While he could not say if the per diem bill would advance, Chenault added that the public should expect cuts in other places.
“You’ll see cuts made in the Legislature’s budget, dealing with a number of issues that are out there,” says Chenault. “We’re trying to rein in the spending that we can at the legislative level, no different than what we’re asking the departments to do.”
So far, the per diem bill has not been scheduled for any committee hearings.