Alaska Editorial: Sneaky raise: Allowances become surreptitious salaries

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

State law provides each member of the Legislature an annual allowance “for postage, stationery, stenographic services, and other expenses.”

Members of the Senate are allocated $20,000 per year, while members of the House, whose districts have half the population of senators, receive $16,000.

An office allowance is reasonable, even though the “other expenses” have become far more significant than postage in the age of electronic communication.

What is not reasonable is the action taken by the Legislative Council in December to treat all office allowance funds as personal income for legislators. Under this approach, taxes are withheld and legislators are free to spend the rest of the “allowance” as they wish, with no reporting requirements.

The most prudent step is for the Legislature to override the action of the Legislative Council and treat the office allowance as a reimbursable account.

That way taxes won’t be withheld — which would mean that more of the money would go for legitimate office expenses, and any funds that are not spent would remain in the treasury.

There are signs that members of both parties recognize the problem with the new system.

The new chairman of the Legislative Council, Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican, said it needs a “stronger review.”

Rep. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat, said, “Most members think it’s a huge problem and want to change it now.”

Democratic Sen. Berta Gardner of Anchorage has introduced a bill to restrict the accounts to qualified business expenses, a simple fix that should be approved. Any additional amounts should remain with the state treasury and not in the pockets of legislators.

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