Petitions submitted to bar payments to lawmakers if they miss budget deadline

Alaska voters are a step closer to deciding whether lawmakers will be paid if they fail to pass a budget on time.

Rep. Jason Grenn, an independent from Anchorage, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in January 2017 on a bill to redefine when lawmakers can abstain from voting on conflicts of interest. Grenn sponsored an initiative for a bill that would end per diem payments to legislators if they don’t pass the state budget on time. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The group Alaskans for Integrity said it likely has more than enough signed petitions to put an initiative on the fall ballot that would accomplish that. More than 45,000 signatures were submitted for the Alaska Government Accountability Act.

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The group’s co-chair Bonnie Jack  said it doesn’t take much to convince people to sign.

“(What) I’ve learned with the few signatures I gathered, was just talk about the per diem pay,” Jack said, adding that residents, say, “Stop! You don’t need to tell me any more. I’m happy to sign it.’”

In the past three years, lawmakers haven’t agreed on a budget before the end of the 121-day session limit set by the state constitution.

Lawmakers are currently entitled to more than $200 a day when the session runs long.

The bill would stop those payments.

Anchorage Rep. Jason Grenn sponsored the initiative.

“I’d like to think of it as incentivizing us to get our job done in time,” he said. “But, I think Alaskans are kind of fed up with what looks like, from the outside, that not a lot of work happens and we wait until the very end to start work on passing a budget. And I think that hurts a lot of different sectors of Alaska, when people are waiting and waiting and waiting, and then we end up going past our time limit.”

The bill also would take steps to limit lawmakers’ conflicts of interest and the gifts lawmakers receive.

It would require them to provide justification before the state would pay for international travel.

And it would bar foreign-owned corporations from contributing to state and local political campaigns.

Gov. Bill Walker has proposed docking lawmakers per diem payments — and their salaries — if they don’t pass a budget by the end of the 90-day session end set by state law.