Alaska Legislature

After passing incomplete budget, Alaska lawmakers approve their own expense payments

JUNEAU — Each Alaska lawmaker may now apply for as much as $8,790 in expense payments for the special legislative session that ends Friday.

In a 9-1 vote Wednesday afternoon, a joint House-Senate committee agreed to allow retroactive payments following the passage of the state budget by both House and Senate.

Legislators can request $293 per day for each of the 30 days of the special session. Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, voted against the retroactive payments and unsuccessfully tried to limit them so they apply only to days that a particular lawmaker was in Juneau.

“We have a good honor system. It has worked well in the past,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, who said that lawmakers usually only ask for per diem expense payments on days they actually work in the Capitol.

Alaska lawmakers are paid $50,400 per year, but lawmakers who live outside the capital city also receive daily payments to compensate for the cost of housing and food while they are in Juneau.

[Alaska Senate narrowly passes budget but fails to fully fund Permanent Fund dividend and other items]

In 2018, lawmakers passed an ethics bill ending those expense payments after the 121st day of the legislative session unless lawmakers had passed a state budget.

The next year, lawmakers worked after that deadline and into a special session on the budget. On June 12, after the budget passed the House and Senate, the joint House-Senate Legislative Council voted to retroactively pay per diem to lawmakers under the belief that since the budget had passed, they were again eligible for per diem.

The 2020 budget was finished early, but this year’s budget is even later than it was in 2019, leading to Wednesday’s vote.

Jessica Geary, director of the agency that oversees the payments, said lawmakers were unable to apply for the payments before Wednesday, and she has not seen any requests.