Alaska Legislative Council seeks to fund per diems after Gov. Dunleavy veto

A photo of a multi-story building.
The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau hosts budget negotiations on a rainy day in April. Supporters of the state’s medical education program, WWAMI, want the Legislature to agree to fund the program during the special session scheduled to start on Aug. 16. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

A joint House-Senate council of the Alaska Legislature voted on Thursday to pay per diems during the legislative session scheduled to start next week. 

The payments to lawmakers from outside of Juneau supplement their salaries and cover their living expenses during the session. They receive $293 per day. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy had vetoed the payments in June. He said it didn’t make sense for legislators to receive the money until they’ve resolved the future of permanent fund dividends. 

In December, he proposed restoring the $2 million in per diem funding in a bill that supplements the current budget. But that bill would also pay an additional $1,215 PFD, to make up for the difference between last year’s dividend and the amount he proposed. Legislators expressed concern last year that larger dividends would require drawing more than planned from the permanent fund.

The Legislative Council voted 12 to 1 to transfer money from capital funds to the Legislature’s account for salaries and allowances. 

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Matt Claman voted for the transfer. He said delaying it would hurt some legislators.

“A reduction in per diem – or not paying, getting per diem started right away – really disadvantages those legislators that actually bring their families to Juneau,” he said. “And I think it’s really essential for some of the families that do have kids that we have those representatives and senators with us.”

Wasilla Republican Rep. Cathy Tilton was the only council member to vote no. She said the transfer wasn’t needed to pay per diems because the Legislature could pass the governor’s supplemental bill. 

She also has supported the governor’s plan to pay larger dividends.

“There are also other things in that supplemental that should be taken care of immediately as well,” she said.

The council plans to refill the capital funds if the supplemental bill passes.  

Legislators can receive roughly $35,400 in per diems for a 121-day session, in addition to salaries of $50,400. 

The State Officers Compensation Commission is scheduled to discuss a proposal on Tuesday that would increase lawmakers’ salaries to $64,000 while cutting their per diems to $100. The combined change would decrease the overall amount of money that lawmakers take home. If the commission approves the changes, they would go into effect next year unless the Legislature votes to block them. 

After the vote, an internet outage disrupted the council meeting. The council plans to meet again before the session starts to discuss the COVID-19 safety rules for the Capitol building. 

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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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