Since 2015, Alaska’s 60 state legislators have been paid an average of $85,400 in salary and per diem expense payments.
In a brief meeting Thursday, the Alaska State Officers Compensation Commission advanced a plan to cut that amount by paying lawmakers a base salary of $74,500 and $5,000 in expenses, starting after the 2022 election.
The commission will collect public testimony and re-examine the idea in a meeting on Jan. 4.
One commissioner member, Lee Cruise, proposed steeper cuts: keeping legislators’ base salary at $50,400 and capping expenses at $12,000 per year.
“If they don’t think that’s enough money, then frankly, they can go do something else,” he said.
The commission is in charge of setting the salaries of the governor, legislators, lieutenant governor and the heads of state departments, and for years, it has considered changes to legislators’ daily expense payments, known as per diem.
Some members of the public have criticized those payments, saying they may offer a financial incentive to extend legislative sessions longer than necessary.
Former state Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage and chairman of the compensation commission, has previously said that if the commission simply eliminated per diem, only wealthy Alaskans could afford the expense of operating two households, one in their home district, and the other at the site of the Capitol.
“It was a struggle to make ends meet, to maintain living in your home district across the state and living in Juneau,” Ellis said of his time in the Legislature.
Any changes to legislative pay, if approved by the commission, would take effect automatically unless rejected by the Legislature.
In its Thursday meeting, citing a letter from Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the commission dropped plans to increase the Alaska governor’s salary by half the rate of inflation since 2011, the last time the governor’s pay was changed. Dunleavy earned $144,536 in salary during 2020.
The commission advanced plans to raise the salaries of the lieutenant governor and state commissioners by half the rate of inflation since their last adjustment.
Using inflation figures in Anchorage, that would increase the lieutenant governor’s salary from $114,628 (exact figure paid in 2020) to about $122,000. Salaries for commissioners would rise from $140,707 to about $144,000.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified commissioner Lee Cruise as Lee Ellis.