It took legislators 26 days on top of the regular 121-day session to finally pass an operating budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. During that time thanks to a new law signed into effect in 2018, legislators were barred from collecting per diem, but that didn’t stop the Alaska Legislative Council from skirting the rules and approving retroactive payments.
According to records released by the Legislative Affairs Agency this week, 38 of the 57 legislators eligible to collect per diem have applied for at least some per diem retroactively, for a total payment of $138,618. The three Juneau legislators are ineligible to receive any per diem because they live within 50 miles of the location of the session.
Four legislators claimed per diem for all 26 days, bringing home payments of $7,852. Those legislators include former Senate Majority Leader Mia Costello, far-right minority Rep. David Eastman, House Finance Committee co-chair Rep. Neal Foster and Golovin Democratic Sen. Donny Olson.
The daily per diem rate for legislators is $302. The average payout to legislators who collected per diem was $3,647.
Legislators across the political spectrum collected per diem payments but the vast majority of the 19 legislators who outright rejected per diem altogether were Republicans.
Four Democrats rejected the payments: Sens. Tom Begich and Bill Wielechowski, Reps. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Grier Hopkins. Meanwhile 15 Republicans claimed zero days of per diem during the budget impasse: Sens. Shelley Hughes, Peter Micciche and Natasha von Imhof, and Reps. Ben Carpenter, Jennifer Johnston, Gary Knopp, Gabrielle LeDoux, Mark Neuman, Lance Pruitt, Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, Dave Talerico, Cathy Tilton, Sarah Vance and Tammie Wilson.
The 2018 law barred legislators from collecting per diem after the end of the 121-day session until the day after a budget is passed. The Legislature received legal advice from its counsel that the retroactive payments would be permissible because they were collected after the budget passed.
Sen. Bert Stedman, the Sitka Republican who was the lone legislator to speak in favor of the retroactive payments (and would collect $5,436 in per diem for 18 days), said the restriction on per diem would create a bad precedent for the Legislature and undermine the ability of people to serve in the Legislature regardless of their personal finances.
“There is some concern there that it would encourage members to not support an operating budget so they could drive it into special session and squeeze particular political opponents that may not have the financial resources that others do,” he said at the time, adding, “We have people from all walks and talks of life and different financial means available. I don’t want to see us restrict membership of the Legislature to retired, financially set Alaskans. It should be available for all Alaskans.”
He said legislators who objected to the payments didn’t have to collect them.
Here’s the full list of legislators per diem claims and the amount of money they received
|Legislator||Days Claimed||Total Amount|
|Natasha von Imhof||0||$0.00|