Lawmakers to earn smaller paychecks

Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2000

Legislators' pay for the time they spend in Juneau has gone down.

The per diem rate - a daily amount intended to cover the cost of living expenses while legislators are in session - has dropped from $173 a day to $161.

The rate is tied to the federal Department of Defense rate for Juneau, and it changes frequently, sometimes going up or down a couple of times a year, said Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency.

``It fluctuates because they are always out there doing surveys and deciding what is the fair rate for them to go out and secure reasonable housing and a meal allowance in the capital city,'' Varni said.

Since 1994 the rate has gone up five times and down five times, she said. It was $151 in 1994.

Last March legislators' per diem rose from $161 to $173. The raise sparked outrage at a time when the state was facing a $1 billion budget deficit and lawmakers were cutting spending.

Lawmakers don't actually vote on the rate, Varni said. They simply accept the changes as they come, up or down.

If they didn't want to accept an increase, she said, ``I suppose they could write a check to the general fund if they want to, ... but we issue them all the same check.''

If the current $161 rate holds until April, which is when the rates are often updated, it will save the state about $65,000, said Rep. Eldon Mulder, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.

``It saves us more than what the increase cost us last year,'' the Anchorage Republican said.

Juneau lawmakers receive 75 percent of the per diem rate of other legislators because they already live in the capital city. Their per diem is subject to federal income tax, unlike other lawmakers' per diem.

The per diem pay is in addition to an annual legislative salary of about $24,000.

Jeannette James, a North Pole Republican, has introduced a bill to lower that salary by about $2,400. However, she said, she doesn't expect it to pass.

In addition to session per diem and annual salary, lawmakers also receive a lower per diem rate for days they work between sessions.

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