Legislative pay dropped this year

Posted: Tuesday, June 03, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Lawmakers made less money the last two months of the legislative session because their daily pay rate went down.

On top of their base pay, legislators receive per diem, a payment that is partly to reimburse them for living expenses while they're away from home.

The federally set per diem rate dropped on April 1 from $202 a day to $174 a day, said Pam Varni, director of the Legislative Affairs Agency.

The change means most lawmakers will collect $1,568 less for April and May than they otherwise would have, depending on how many days they claim the pay.

Since 1994, lawmakers have opted to peg their in-session per diem to a federal rate, set by the Department of Defense, rather than adjust it themselves.

''The rate is set by them,'' said Senate President Gene Therriault, R-North Pole. ''We do not get any advance warning when it goes up or it goes down.''

The federal rate for Juneau, which includes $90 a day for lodging, $60 for meals and $15 for incidentals, has gone up eight times and down seven times since 1994, Varni said.

A phone call last week to the federal Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee in Alexandria, Va., for further explanation of the rate change went unanswered.

Lawmakers budgeted enough money $200,000 to bring their pay back up to $202-a-day next year if the federal per diem rises again. But they will not receive that pay unless the federal rate goes up, Therriault said.

Lawmakers' base pay of $24,012 a year has not changed since 1991, Varni said. That's about the same as the annual salary for a clerk, she said.

On top of that base pay, lawmakers receive the session per diem for their time in Juneau, including 10 days before the first session of a two-year legislative term and five days after each session. This year that could amount to about $25,900.

Once they leave Juneau, they can claim post-session per diem of $65 for days they attend meetings or spend at least four hours on legislative business.

They are also provided business expense allowances of $8,000 a year for representatives and $10,000 a year for senators.

They can spend that allowance as they wish and pay federal taxes on it, or if they prefer they can spend it on allowable expenses accounted for by the Legislative Affairs Agency. In that case, the money is tax free.

Lawmakers also receive reimbursement for approved travel and for moving expenses to and from Juneau.

The amount the state spends on each lawmaker varies, depending on how much per diem they claim for days worked between sessions and how much they spend on travel and moving.

Former Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, was the most expensive lawmaker overall in 2002, costing the state $95,357 when travel, per diem, relocation expenses and office allowance were counted.

Torgerson, who was chairman of a special natural gas pipeline committee, was reimbursed $27,841 for travel in 2002, the highest travel expense of any lawmaker.

The legislator claiming the most between-session pay in 2002 was Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, whose district sprawls from the Canadian border in the east to St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. He racked up $12,610 in post-session per diem. The state spent a total of $93,565 for Olson's pay, travel, moving expenses and office allowance.

Nine legislators claimed no post-session pay in 2002. They were Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage; then-Rep. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage; then-Rep. Andrew Halcro, R-Anchorage; Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez; Rep. Carl Moses, D-Unalaska; Sen. Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage; Rep. Jim Whitaker, R-Fairbanks; Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks; and Rep. Bill Williams, R-Saxman.

A report on legislators' pay and expenses in 2003 will not be available until early in 2004.

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