Kapsner tops Kohring in legislative pay

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Bethel Democrat Mary Kapsner was the Legislature's best-paid member last year, claiming more optional pay for work during the interim than any other lawmaker.

Kapsner, who's in her second year in the House, claimed $10,075 in daily $65 payments, according to a report released by the Legislative Affairs Agency this week.

''I have a very big district and I also serve a district that doesn't have very strong municipal government, so in a lot of respects I'm doing double duty,'' said Kapsner, who represents a sprawling, mostly Alaska Native area of Southwest Alaska that includes some of the state's poorest and most remote villages.

She said her work from her constituents ranged from making sure they got their Permanent Fund Dividends to helping move buildings endangered by river erosion.

The payments, known as long-term per diem, are optional. Some lawmakers claim nothing, while others claim nearly as much as they can.

Kapsner, a single mother raising a 2-year-old son, claimed $65 for 155 days. The interim between the Legislature's 121 day sessions lasts about 34 weeks, which works out to about 174 weekdays.

She displaced Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, who claimed the money for 159 days in 1999 to lead all lawmakers. Kohring, the Legislature's most ardent budget-cutter, finished third on the list for 2000, with $8,905. Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, was second with $9,490.

''I've been dethroned,'' Kohring said cheerfully. ''My reign as the interim per diem king is over.''

Rep. Andrew Halcro, R-Anchorage, was among nine lawmakers who claimed no long-term per diem.

''It's always been my viewpoint that's why I get a salary,'' said Halcro, whose family operates a successful rental car business. ''I'm not sure I understand this concept of getting paid twice for coming to work.''

Lawmakers' base salary is set in law at $24,012, although the House Speaker and the Senate President get $500 extra. Lawmakers from outside Juneau also received $161 per day during the session for living expenses, while the capital city's two representatives and single senator got $120.75. Lawmakers also get a $6,000 office allowance they can take as compensation.

The two kinds of per diem and the office allowance boosted Kapsner's total pay to $59,085.

The report also detailed each lawmaker's costs for state-paid travel and the amount spent to move them back and forth from Juneau. Again, the amounts varied widely. Some lawmakers are single and spend little to move back and forth, while others bring their entire households to Juneau.

Kohring claimed nothing in either travel or relocation costs, while Halcro claimed only $960 for two airplane tickets to and from Juneau, making him the state's cheapest lawmaker overall for the second year running.

Travel costs were generally higher for members of the Legislature's Republican majority. Travel spending must be approved by legislative leaders.

Rep. Jeannette James, R-North Pole was the most expensive lawmaker overall, claiming $16,696 for travel, $10,659.25 for relocation, and $7,605 in long-term per-diem. With her session per diem, office allowance and salary, James' total for 2000 came to $81,758.

Now retired-Rep. Gail Phillips, who finished her career in the House as chairwoman of the Special Committee on Economic Development and tourism, was the Legislature's top traveler, spending $19,958. Former Senate President Drue Pearce was third behind James, spending $14,429.

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