Legislative Council rejects Juneau legislator’s proposed 75 percent cut to per diem

Alaska State CapitolThe Alaska State Capitol as photographed in March 2017. (Photo by gillfoto/Creative Commons)

The Legislative Council met on Monday where chair Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, put forward a proposal to cut legislative per diem by 75 percent, but the motion was soundly rejected by every other member on the committee. Only Kito, who’s at odds with the House Majority Coalition, voted in favor of the change.

Kito’s already has a foot out of the door of the Alaska Legislature after the State Officer Compensation Commission voted to end per diem for legislators living within 50 miles of the location of session, effective next year. He said the change, combined with the lengthy special sessions that make it difficult to find work during the interim, will make it difficult for him to afford the job.

Kito and other legislators said they disagreed with the commission’s reasoning, but ultimately balked at reversing the decision through legislation.

The other legislators were similarly frosty about the departing Kito’s proposal.

“It was some of the least thoughtful, comprehensive public debate I’ve heard in any body,” Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, said of the compensation commission’s deliberations on cutting Juneau legislators’ per diem. “There’s a long and larger dialogue to go forward if we were to do these recommendations from you, Mr. Chair (Kito). This is as inequitable as anything else I’ve seen.”

Opponents to Kito’s proposed cut said it would leave a Legislature where only the wealthy or the corrupt can afford to spend 90 days or more in Juneau.

Legislative Council vice chair Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, acknowledged there were significant problems with the commission’s decision and said they should be studied in the interim, but also said the proposed change would ultimately harm the Legislature.

“We have some issues to sort out here over the next several months to get this addressed … but I cannot, Mr. Chairman, support such a draconian policy that I think will weaken the stability of the Legislature tremendously,” he said. “We need to have and be able to attract middle-aged men like yourself, Mr. Chairman, with family. Not guys my age that are closer to the geezer patrol on the end of the age spectrum. We have made it very difficult for working families in their 30s, 40s and 50s to come to Juneau and participate in the democratic process.”

Kito said the desire to study the issue was appreciated, but wasn’t optimistic that it would result in any action.

“I worry what we have established now becomes the new normal and there will not be motivation from 57 other legislators to address an issue of inequity for Juneau,” he said. “I do fear, and not for myself, I fear that Juneau will end up short.”

He said all of the concerns raised by other legislators to oppose the cut in per diem will become true for the three legislators from the Juneau area and that Juneau will be left only represented by the wealthy or the corrupt.

Instead, the committee adopted a proposal by Stedman that would keep legislative per diem rates at the winter rate for the rest of the 2018 session. That rate is $275. It would have bumped up to the summer rate of $295 on May 1.

In 2017, legislators collected between $27,000 and $52,000 in total per diem between the regular sessions and the four special sessions.

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