Office allowances: Legislature needs to revise the policy

The following editorial first ran Dec. 29, 2012:

 

The state law about office allowances for legislators is as clear as can be.

It says, “each member of the legislature is entitled to an annual allowance prescribed in accordance with AS 39.23 for postage, stationery, stenographic services, and other expenses.”

The law does not say that the office allowance, now set at $20,000 per year for senators and $16,000 per year for representatives, is to be collected by lawmakers as income.

But that is how the Legislative Council, which sets policy when the Legislature is not in session, is interpreting the law. Six Republicans and two Democrats were in attendance at the Dec. 13 meeting and no one objected to the change.

Until now the Legislature has had three options for the allowance. Most lawmakers chose to either make it a reimbursable account for office expenses or a partially reimbursable account for office expenses.

An auditor has suggested that only one option be given. The council chose the wrong option.

Legislators are paid $50,400 per year, plus a daily allowance of $238 per day for living expenses during the session.

They should not be collecting the office allowance as income.

One of the first items our Legislature should take up in 2013 is to reverse this decision by the Legislative Council, which was based on a survey saying that 25 of our 60 lawmakers favored that approach. That’s not an overwhelming vote of confidence.

Instead of adding the office allowance money to their paychecks, legislators should be required to submit bills or receipts for office expenses. At the end of each year, the money not spent should be returned to the general fund.

This would encourage efficiency and economy on the part of our legislators. It also would match the intent of the law.

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