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Bill questions use of air miles

Lawmaker wants to change how workers use travel benefits

Posted: Monday, February 12, 2001

Rep. Andrew Halcro still talks about the day last year he overheard ticket agents at a Juneau airline counter redeeming frequent flyer miles for a state commissioner.

The high-ranking state employee apparently was planning a personal trip using extra miles he earned while traveling on government business. State workers are allowed to do that, but it just didn't sit well with the Anchorage Republican.

"It reinforced to me the mileage he was accumulating on state business - he was turning it into a vacation, and I think that's legitimate state property," Halcro said.

Halcro has reintroduced a measure from last year that would require government workers to use frequent flyer miles earned on state business for subsequent state travel. Halcro said the restriction would save money on transportation, which costs the state about $15 million a year.

He also defended the idea by pointing to the federal government, which he said already prohibits employees from redeeming business-related frequent flyer miles for personal use. The federal government denies its workers the extra miles, and so should the state, he said.

"I certainly believe that should be funneled back and used for future state trips," said Halcro, adding the restriction would apply to legislators, too.

Union leader Chuck O'Connell shot down the idea, saying the Legislature shouldn't look to the federal government for guidance on running state affairs.

"The federal government declares war, too," said O'Connell, business manager for the Alaska State Employees Association, which represents close to 7,400 state workers. "Just because the federal government does something, that doesn't mean the state should."

O'Connell argued the frequent flyer miles are awarded to travelers by the airlines, not by the state. It's not a state benefit, so the state shouldn't try to take it away, he said. Besides, most state workers travel for business on their own time - in the mornings, evenings or on weekends - and the Legislature should consider the extra miles a reward for employee inconvenience, O'Connell said.

"Most people do not receive any pay whatsoever when they travel," O'Connell said. "Frequent flyer miles don't cost the state of Alaska any money, and to take away something like this ... it doesn't make a lot of sense to us."

Under Halcro's measure, the miles would remain in the travelers' accounts, and the state would trust employees to keep track of the government miles and use them for future business travel.

"It would be on the honors system. It would be an ethics violation if you were found to be using your mileage for free trips," Halcro said.

The bill didn't attract much interest from Halcro's colleagues last year. It languished in its first committee and never received a hearing. House Bill 123 was referred this year to the House State Affairs Committee, then to the House Finance Committee.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com



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