Council adopts stipends to help legislative aides pay for sessions in Juneau

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, at a Senate majority press availability in January 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Alaska legislative aides who move to Juneau for sessions would be paid a stipend of $30 per day, under a policy adopted by the Legislative Council. 

Life in Juneau became more expensive for aides last year. That’s because a new law made it so that they could no longer deduct their housing costs as a business expense on their federal income tax return. 

Senate President Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, said the new stipend would make it easier to hire and keep qualified staff members. She was concerned about the federal tax change.

“It has a significant impact,” Giessel said. “And I just want to make sure that we are being attentive to that, so that we can retain the institutional knowledge that we have in some wonderful staff folks.”

The value of the stipend may be greater than what aides received before the federal change. For example, an aide paying $2,000 per month in housing expenses in the 25 percent tax bracket would have received a tax benefit of $500 per month. 

The new stipend will be roughly $900 per month. It’s based on the same per-diem rate that other state workers are paid.

All 12 council members present voted for the change. But North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill said he struggled with the proposal. He said aides are paid well.

“The concern I have is that we’re getting to the place where I think it might be a little too high,” Coghill said. 

But Coghill said the effect of the tax change persuaded him to vote for the new policy.

Up to 120 aides can move to Juneau for sessions. If they all received stipends for a 121-day session, the cost to the state would be  $435,600.