Alaska lawmakers would see higher salaries, lower expense payments under new compensation plan

The Alaska Capitol in June 2021. On Tuesday, the State Officers Compensation Commission adopted final recommendations that would increase legislators’ salaries but cut the overall amount they are paid by reducing per diem payments. (photo by Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

The commission charged with making changes to the salaries of Alaska’s legislators and senior state leaders advanced a plan on Tuesday that would increase salaries but cut payments for sessions. 

The plan would increase lawmakers’ salaries to $64,000, from $50,400. But it would reduce the maximum amount they can receive in per diem payments during the regular session, from $293 per day to $100. 

The combined changes mean legislators would take home less money. 

Commission Chair Johnny Ellis voted for the plan but said he wanted to set the salaries higher.

“I’m a very reluctant yes vote so that the commission has a final recommendation to the Legislature — I believe that there’s a good likelihood they will turn it down as inadequate and complicated,” he said. “But that’s up for them to decide.”

For special sessions, there was a change from a plan drafted earlier this month. When a governor calls a special session, legislators would be reimbursed their actual costs for a hotel or other lodging, as well as up to $60 per day for meals and other expenses. When the Legislature calls itself into a special session, they wouldn’t be reimbursed for anything.

Unlike in recent years, lawmakers would have to show receipts to receive per diem payments for what they actually spent. Per diem payments are not taxable.

The State Officers Compensation Commission voted 3-1 on its recommendations. The changes will go into effect next year unless the Legislature blocks them. 

Commission member Carrigan Grigsby proposed the final recommendation for special session per diems. The draft plan would have set it at $100, but he said that’s too low for a Juneau hotel room in the summer. 

Commission member Lee Cruise voted against the recommendations. He said the salary increase was too high

State department commissioners and the lieutenant governor would also receive pay increases. Commissioners’ pay would increase from roughly $141,000 to nearly $150,000. The lieutenant governor’s salary would increase from $125,000 to $141,000.

The increases equal 1% per year since their last increases, which were in 2015 for commissioners and 2011 for the lieutenant governor. The governor’s pay will remain the same $145,000 that it has been for 11 years, after Gov. Mike Dunleavy turned down an increase. 

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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