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Legislator proposes greater accountability for office funds

Posted: January 28, 2013 - 10:25pm

JUNEAU — An Anchorage senator has proposed legislation aimed at greater accountability for the way state legislators spend money for their offices.

SB34, from Democratic Sen. Berta Gardner, would require that all office expenses be accounted for and that any unspent funds revert to the state general fund.

The Legislative Council last month opted for a non-accountable plan for office allowance accounts in 2013. That means expenses aren’t run through the Legislative Affairs Agency, allowing lawmakers to administer their own accounts. But the agency is required to take out taxes and deductions, Legislative Affairs’ executive director, Pam Varni, said Monday.

Representatives get $16,000 for their office accounts and senators, $20,000. Many of them might not have as much money to spend on office expenses as they otherwise would because of the large amount of taxes that will come out, she said.

The way the system had been working was lawmakers would submit expenses for reimbursement and get a check for any funds remaining in their account, with taxes and deductions taken out. IRS regulations for an accountable plan would have any excess revert back to the employer, or to the state general fund, at the end of the fiscal year, Varni said. But she said her agency had been using a hybrid system, with at least part of the funds accountable and the leftover money, non-accountable.

A tax attorney and auditor recommended that just one system be used, thus the change at Legislative Council, she said.

Gardner said up to 33 percent of legislators’ accounts will go to taxes, resulting in a “loss of buying power” for legislative purposes.

She said she didn’t want to propose a size for legislators’ accounts, saying costs are different for every lawmaker. But Gardner said she doesn’t believe the fund should be “cashed out and put in legislators’ pockets.”

“If you have this amount, you use what you need for expenses and the rest goes back to the state treasury,” she said. “That, to me seems, to be a very reasonable approach.”

Gardner’s bill would apply to accounts established on or after Jan. 1, 2014.

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