Bethel legislator tops in off-session earnings

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2001

A House Democrat received more optional pay from the state last year than any other lawmaker, according to preliminary numbers in a new report.

Rep. Mary Kapsner, a Bethel Democrat, claimed about $10,000 in long-term per diem, or extra pay for legislative work done out of session. That's on top of an annual legislative salary of more than $24,000 and in addition to about $19,000 paid to most lawmakers for food and lodging during session.

Kapsner said she spent more time meeting with constituents during the interim because of a fisheries disaster in her region.

"I went to a lot of villages talking about the fish disaster and I was just in the office a lot more," said Kapsner, adding that more constituents also have sought her help because the state has cut funding to municipalities.

Nine lawmakers did not claim the extra pay, including Rep. Bill Williams, a Saxman Republican. Williams said he worked about three days a week during the 34-week interim but forgot to claim the $65-a-day per diem.

"It isn't that important to me, apparently - because I forgot about it," said Williams, laughing.

Although she claimed less extra pay than some, House Majority Leader Jeannette James was the most expensive lawmaker overall because of travel and the cost of moving to Juneau for the session. The North Pole Republican claimed about $8,400 to relocate and more than $16,000 in travel expenses, which she attributed to her efforts to link Alaska and Canada by railroad.

"I've been working with the representatives of the federal government in Canada on this issue and have a number of contacts, which I've been working with, that are going to try and promote this idea," James said. "I believe the state will benefit from my efforts."

Former Rep. Gail Phillips, a Homer Republican who retired, spent the most for travel at $20,000.

Three lawmakers claimed nothing for travel in 2000, including Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat. The state reimbursed Juneau Rep. Bill Hudson, a Republican, about $3,800 for travel. Juneau Sen. Kim Elton, a Democrat, was one of six lawmakers to claim travel expenses in the double digits.

The state reimbursed him about $10,700 - mostly for travel related to fish politics, said Elton, one of four lawmakers serving on the Pacific Fisheries Legislative Task Force. The panel includes representatives from California to Alaska and addresses a range of fisheries issues, he said.

Lawmakers "focus an awful lot on oil and gas and tourism. Quite frankly, as far as I'm concerned, we don't focus enough on the industry that is our most important renewable resource," Elton said.

In total salary, Elton claimed about $32,000, and Kerttula and Hudson more than $28,000. That includes extra pay for work during the interim and $24,000 in salary. Juneau lawmakers also claimed about $14,000 in per diem for last session. The numbers could go up if they submit additional claims this year for 2000.

How do Alaska legislative salaries compare with those of other states? According to a survey by a national research group, 19 states pay their lawmakers more than Alaska's base salary of $24,012, with California topping the list at $99,000 a year and New York coming in second at $79,500.

However, Alaska lawmakers earn more than their counterparts in at least 21 states: New Hampshire pays $200 a year, and New Mexico does not offer any salary, according to the Pew Center on the States, a research organization administered by the University of Richmond. Nine other states do not pay an annual salary but opt for a daily, weekly or monthly salary. The survey did not compare those salaries with the annual salaries.

Kathy Dye can be reached at

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