Gov. Tony Knowles spent $57,388 traveling last year, roaming everywhere from New Orleans and New York to Bethel and Homer.
The next most-expensive traveler, according to a recently released report on travel and compensation for top executive branch officials, was University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton. His travel bill ran to $42,598.
The report shows the top-paid state official in 1999 was former Gov. Bill Sheffield, now head of the Alaska Railroad Corp., who makes $163,935 - twice the $81,648 salary of Knowles, whose pay is set by law.
Hamilton was the next highest paid state official with a salary of $161,000.
Representatives of the university and the railroad defended the salaries of their top executives.
Wendy Lindskoog, a spokeswoman for the railroad, said railroad executives at Sheffield's level in the Lower 48 typically make $250,000 to $300,000, and also have stock options.
Because the railroad is set up as a self-sustaining state-owned corporation, it is required to generate the revenue to cover its expenses, so state funding isn't paying Sheffield's salary, she said.
``He basically is paid less than other professionals in the railroad industry that are at his level,'' Lindskoog said.
University of Alaska spokesman Bob Miller said the same of Hamilton's salary - that it's lower than what presidents of comparable-size universities elsewhere make.
Hamilton also has a house, provided by the University of Alaska Foundation, that's worth an estimated $32,000 a year to him. If he holds his post for five years, he'll receive an additional lump-sum payment of $125,000, Miller said.
Hamilton and Sheffield also receive vehicle allowances of $4,600 and $7,200 respectively.
The nature of the university system in Alaska requires Hamilton to travel extensively, Miller said.
``The simple fact is we're located all over the state,'' Miller said. ``For him to get around to the various communities where the university's involved, it requires a great deal of air travel.''
Being located in Fairbanks sometimes adds to the travel costs because Hamilton must fly to Anchorage first to make connections to places such as Bethel, Miller said.
Since he took the job a year and a half ago, Hamilton has logged a quarter of a million miles, Miller said.
The governor's spokesman, Bob King, also pointed to the size of the state as a reason Knowles spent so much on travel.
``He's the governor of the largest state in the nation. And he thinks it's very important to personally reach out and talk personally with the constituents over a far-flung area,'' King said.
Knowles' travel also included a number of trips outside the state.
King said the New York trip was to meet with various bond rating firms, agencies that basically decide how good a credit risk the state is, which determines its ability to sell bonds to pay for projects.
``It's important to sit down with them across the table and answer their questions about where the state's economy is headed,'' King said.
The governor also made a number of trips in connection with his chairmanship this year of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a group of oil-producing states. The New Orleans trip in December was one of those.
Other big travelers last year were Department of Transportation Commissioner Joe Perkins, whose bills ran to $35,865; Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Executive Director Barbara Belknap, who spent $33,117 on travel; and Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Karen Perdue, who racked up $32,175 in travel bills.
Dennis Poshard, a DOT spokesman, pointed to the size of the state and Perkins' chairmanship of a key committee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials as reasons for his high travel bills.
ASMI director Belknap traveled to such far-flung places as Belgium and France promoting Alaska seafood. She also attended a number of meetings in Anchorage and Seattle. The ASMI budget is paid by taxes on the fishing industry, she said.
Perdue said she needed to travel to Washington, D.C., and other Lower 48 destinations to keep abreast of developments in federal programs that affect her department, such as those dealing with welfare reform, Social Security, medical assistance for the poor, juvenile justice, child welfare and public health.
``You really need to keep atop of the changing policies or it could cost the state significant amounts of money,'' she said.
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