Begich furloughing staff amid budget cuts

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, left, is escorted by Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, to the House Chambers to deliver his annual speech to a Joint Session of the Alaska Legislature at the Capitol in Juneau, Alaska, on Monday, March 4, 2013. (AP Photo/The Juneau Empire, Michael Penn)

JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is furloughing more than half his staff and giving up part of his salary due to automatic budget cuts known as the sequester, his office said.

Begich is the lone member of Alaska’s congressional delegation to furlough staff amid the cuts. Begich also has the highest number of staff among the three-member delegation, at 41.

Spokeswoman Heather Handyside said 26 of Begich’s staff will be furloughed for at least two days but perhaps four or more. Furloughed staff won’t be paid for the days they’re out. Staff members have until the end of September to take their mandatory time off.

Handyside said that if staffers are furloughed for two days, Begich will give back two days’ worth of his $174,000 salary. If they’re furloughed for four days, it would be the equivalent of four days’ pay.

Handyside said travel and printing also have been cut from the budget.

Begich, in a statement, said there’s no reason that members of Congress shouldn’t feel the financial pinch, like anyone else.

“This won’t solve our spending problem on its own, but I hope it is a reminder to Alaskans that I am willing to make the tough cuts, wherever they may be, to get our spending under control,” he said.

Begich got an office budget of about $3.1 million this year, Handyside said, adding that it is being cut $158,000.

She said Begich has cut his office budget by about $800,000 over the past four years, returning that money to the Treasury.

Spokesmen for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Rep. Don Young said they do not plan furloughs.

Murkowski spokesman Matthew Felling said Murkowski has been able to implement the cuts due to her “carefully weighing every expense.” Even with the cuts, she will be in a position to have left-over office money to return to the Treasury at the end of the fiscal year, he said. Murkowski, Alaska’s senior senator has 36 staff members, Felling said.

Young spokesman Michael Anderson said Young’s office budget has been cut by nearly 25 percent over the past four years. There are no plans for furloughs but said Young has cut back in other areas, such as not replacing staff who have left and reducing staff travel, Anderson said. “Despite these cutbacks, we’ve still been able to maintain constituent services by reaching out to Alaskans via telephone town halls, video conferencing and e-newsletters,” he said.

Young has 14 staff members between Alaska and Washington, Anderson said.

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