Proposal would cut Alaska legislators’ daily allowance during sessions

The Alaska Capitol on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

A new proposal would cut most of the amount of money Alaska lawmakers receive to cover expenses to live in Juneau during the legislative session. 

A member of a state commission that can change legislators’ pay proposed on Thursday that their expenses be limited to $12,000 per year. Legislators have averaged $29,481 in session expenses — known as “per diems” — over the last 12 years. 

Lee Cruise, a member of the State Officers Compensation Commission, made the proposal. He said legislators are paid too much. 

“We’re grossly overpaying our representatives, to the point where it’s, honest to god, it’s disgusting,” he said.

Cruise rejected the idea that the public should pay legislators for meals beyond what they receive in their salaries. Since 2011, Alaska legislators’ salaries have been $50,400 per year. 

“We do not need these people to live well,” he said. “We need them to live. The general public lives, they don’t live well.”

He notes that Alaska legislators’ are paid more than the national average. And he emphasizes that legislators are only required to work during the legislative session.

Under state law, the commission has the power to recommend changes to the salaries of legislators, the governor, lieutenant governor and the commissioners of state departments. Those changes go into effect unless the Legislature and governor reject them. 

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Commission Chair Johnny Ellis floated the idea of raising legislators’ salaries. 

Ellis is a former state senator. He says being in the Legislature is more than a part-time job

“Living in your home district across the state and living in Juneau for an extended – at least 121 days under the constitution – the $50,400 has not kept up,”  he said.

Ellis said he has heard from members of the public that they would like to have legislators work for free. 

Cruise said it would be “absurd” to increase their pay. 

The commission also is considering a proposal that would shift how legislators are paid, with less of the money coming from per diems and more in salary. It would keep overall compensation, including salaries and living expenses, similar to what it has been in recent years.

Salary increases for the lieutenant governor and state commissioners are also being considered by the commission. That increase would cover some of the hikes in the cost of living in recent years. 

The pay for the governor and lieutenant governor has not changed since 2011. Commissioners’ pay last changed in 2015. Gov. Mike Dunleavy told the commission he opposed changing the governor’s salary. 

The commission is inviting legislators to respond to both proposals. And it will also be taking public comment on the proposals. 

The commission is scheduled to hold its next meeting on Jan. 4. The deadline for it to propose changes to the Legislature is Jan. 28. 

RELATED: Dunleavy’s latest budget proposal would fund $2,500 PFDs, public safety initiatives and big infrastructure projects

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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