The larger issue is whether Alaska pays its citizen legislators wisely and whether the public is getting good value for its money. The squawks could be reduced, and the public better served, with a simpler and more honest system.
For a long time, lawmakers have had it both ways: They've claimed economy by taking a roughly halftime salary $24,012 for what is too loosely considered part-time work. They've also paid themselves nice per diems based on federal formulas. When they work a few hours in a day in the offseason, they can claim a per diem, albeit reduced, for that day. They're also reimbursed for moving costs, official travel and business expenses. ... In about half the year, they can take home as much as most working Alaskans make all year.
Legislators should be well-compensated. It's a demanding job with seasonally long hours and, for most, the requirement of leaving hearth and home for nearly half the year. Many of them make financial sacrifices to go into public service, and most work harder than they get credit for. (Which is true, of course, of people in many walks of life.) Most important, Alaskans should pay legislators well enough that it's entirely clear they work for the people of Alaska, not for the special interests who dominate the lobbying ranks in Capitol halls.
The $24,012 salary legislators get isn't enough. The per diem, though, sweetens the pot very nicely, especially when it can be claimed for a high portion of off-session workdays with minimal hours. It'd be simpler, smarter and more honest to just pay legislators a good not lavish salary for their work and let them take care of their own expenses. ... And give up the charade of a $24,012 salary, the uncertainties of federal formulas, and the doubts about who's paying for whom. The fewer hidden numbers in the legislative pay system, the better.
Anchorage Daily News,
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