Alaska Legislature

Records: 4 Alaska lawmakers claim maximum retroactive allowance

JUNEAU — Four Alaska lawmakers received the maximum allowable daily allowances for the time between the end of the drawn-out regular session in May and passage of a state operating budget nearly a month later, legislative records show.

Under a law passed last year, if an operating budget is not passed by the 121st day the Legislature is in session, lawmakers cannot collect the allowance, or per diem, until the budget passes.

This year, the 121-day mark was reached May 15. A budget passed during a subsequent special session June 10.

The Legislature's top legal adviser in June told the Legislative Council the law does not prevent it from authorizing retroactive payments, which the council did after the budget passed. The council, composed of House and Senate leaders, authorized retroactive payments of $302 per day to lawmakers requesting them for days they were in Juneau for the special session before the budget passed.

Records provided by the Legislative Affairs Agency on Wednesday showed Sens. Mia Costello of Anchorage and Donny Olson of Golovin and Reps. David Eastman of Wasilla and Neal Foster of Nome requested payments for each of the 26 days covered. Payments for each totaled $7,852.

Messages seeking comment were left for Costello and Foster through caucus spokesmen. Costello at the time was the Senate majority leader. Foster is co-chair of the House Finance Committee.

Olson, who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement that he, his wife and six young children relocate every year from their remote community and stay in Juneau until the legislative work is finished.

"If we want to continue to encourage all types of Alaskans to run for office, we need to continue to show support for families and not shift costs to those who wish to serve this state," he said.

Eastman, who has regularly attended House floor sessions even when attendance is not mandatory, said Wednesday he had to give up three part-time jobs he'd had since before he got elected because of this year's sessions.

"Since I had to give up my part-time jobs, there's only so many ways to get family income when you're stuck in Juneau," he said.

One argument he said he’s heard is that if legislators return home and do their regular jobs during down time, it will save the state money. That’s fine, he said, but he also sees it contributing to drawn-out sessions “because there’s no motivation at all for anybody to ever end the stupid thing.”

House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, an Anchorage Republican, did not claim an allowance during that period, the records show. He said the Legislature has a "huge trust issue with the public" and that he did not feel right about requesting the per diem.

Nineteen of the Legislature's 60 members claimed no allowance during the time covered by retroactive payments, the records show. Three others, those from Juneau, were not eligible for an allowance since the session was held in the city in which they live.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, a North Pole Republican, voted against the retroactive pay authorization while on the Legislative Council. Records show she did not claim an allowance for the period covered, when she also was Foster's House Finance co-chair.

Wilson said Wednesday she was concerned with how the law was interpreted when she felt the law, as passed, was unambiguous.

The law borrowed from a proposed ballot initiative. She thinks lawmakers fell short of citizen expectations in authorizing retroactive per diem.