Legislators' interim pay increases 145%

Rep. Weyhrauch of Juneau tops the list

Posted: Sunday, February 12, 2006

Alaska lawmakers' interim pay has shot up 145 percent since they gave themselves a raise last year for time spent working on legislative business outside of session.

And one, Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, received more in interim pay than from his regular legislative salary, according to an Associated Press review of the records.

Legislators can claim long-term per diem outside of a regular or special session when they work more than four hours a day on legislative business or when they attend a meeting for a legislative or public purpose.

There is no specific list of work that can be claimed, but lawmakers typically include phone calls or letters to constituents, press interviews, office work, bill preparation and other duties in their reports to the Legislative Affairs Agency.

Until the end of last June, the interim per diem rate was $65 per day. Then the Legislative Council, made up of lawmakers from the Alaska House and Senate, raised the rate 131 percent, to $150 per day.

That change resulted in increased payments last year to 46 of the 51 state legislators who filed reports in both 2005 and 2004.

The total long-term per diem paid out by the state was $606,101 in 2005, a 145 percent increase over the year before, according to data from the Legislative Affairs Agency.

That outpaces the 131 percent per-diem rate hike the Legislative Council approved.

As part-time legislators, most Alaska lawmakers have jobs outside their political lives. But most say their time outside of session is increasingly spent dealing with the state's business, and the interim per diem is meant to compensate them for the time taken away from their regular jobs.

How much is claimed is up to the legislator, and it works on an honor system. There are no checks to see if legislators are working the hours they say they are, said Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency.

"We do not audit the long-term per-diem forms and we don't ever want to," Varni said.

In Weyhrauch's case, interim payments exceeded his $24,012 annual legislator's salary. He claimed $24,195 in interim pay, the highest of any lawmaker.

The year before, Weyhrauch claimed just $3,055.

For the 229 days the Legislature was not in session from December 2004 through November 2005, Weyhrauch claimed interim per diem for at least 196 of those days.

In one stretch that lasted from May 26 until October 15, Weyhrauch reported to the Legislative Affairs Agency that he worked a portion of every single day on legislative business.

Weyhrauch defended the spike, saying he decided for the first time to report the actual hours he spends on legislative business, and that he tries to keep them as low as possible.

"I work every day. I check e-mails every day and return calls every day," Weyhrauch said. "A lot of (legislators) are afraid to request per diem because of a lot of backlash. Legislators work very hard and they work a lot."

Combining the interim pay to his regular legislative pay, plus the $19,446 session per diem he received and an $8,000 office allowance, Weyhrauch's total compensation came to $75,654.

He also was reimbursed $9,139 in travel expenses.

As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Weyhrauch held interim hearings across the state to gather public comments about reducing a $5.7 billion shortfall in the state's public retirement system.

While Weyhrauch received the most interim pay, Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, had the largest increase.

Joule was paid just $130 for interim work in 2004. Last year, that rose to $20,075.

Combined with his legislative salary, session per diem and expense allowance, Joule's total compensation was $78,016. That doesn't count the $17,901 he was reimbursed for travel and the $5,398 for relocation reimbursement.

"I guess I became kind of a full-time legislator last year," Joule said. "I've never traveled as much as I did last year. Because I was traveling, I didn't have a regular job to hold down. I was constantly getting calls to address certain things."

Joule's travel included trips to lobby for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, tribal meetings, mining issues, trade fairs, interim committee hearings and other work.

Interim per diem claims vary greatly from legislator to legislator. Three received no interim pay at all in 2005 and 2004: Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks; Rep. Jim Holm, R-Fairbanks; and Rep. Carl Moses, D-Unalaska.

Just two lawmakers' interim pay decreased over that two-year span: Rep. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage; and Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage.

The increase in interim per-diem payments was tempered somewhat by a reduction of the session per-diem rate.

The 57 legislators who live outside of Juneau received $204 a day for the first three months of last year's session, then the per diem was lowered to $156 a day for the month of April. It was raised to $189 a day in May and for the special session.

Juneau legislators received less, between $117 and $153 a day during those five months.

With a 15-day special session immediately following last year's regular session, total session per-diem payments also increased.

Combined, interim and session per-diem payments rose from $1.5 million to $2.1 million.

Legislators' interim per diem rate may change again. Wilken is proposing lowering the rate to $100 if a legislator spends more than four hours a day on legislative business. Lawmakers would get $75 for working one to four hours.

"I think people that spend a half an hour in a meeting and claim a full day's per diem aren't being fair to the system or to the public," Wilken said.

Wilken said he believes $150 a day is excessive. But he is not interested in changing the system, which "has been tried and tested over the years," he said.

Wilken's proposal is scheduled to be heard by the Legislative Council on Monday.

Alaska legislators' per-diem payments

Alaska legislators' interim per-diem claims in 2005 were nearly three times what they were the year before. Below is a list of what the 60 lawmakers charged the state for legislative work out of session in 2005 and 2004. The legislators with missing 2004 data did not hold office that year.

................................... 2005 ..... 2004

Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau ..... $24,195 ..... $3,055

Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski ..... $22,980 ..... $9,490

Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue ..... $20,075 ..... $130

Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage ..... $19,295 ..... $10,140

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Girdwood ..... $19,092 ..... $4,827

Rep. Richard Foster, D-Nome ..... $17,845 ..... $7,995

Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage ..... $17,110 ..... $8,069

Rep. Mary Kapsner, D-Bethel ..... $16,965 ..... $6,760

Sen. Burt Stedman, R-Sitka ..... $16,765 ..... $2,340

Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer ..... $16,415 ..... $5,590

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau ..... $16,165 ..... $4,485

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage ..... $14,760 ..... $5,265

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak ..... $13,375 ..... --

Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake ..... $13,210 ..... --

Rep. David Guttenberg, R-Fairbanks ..... $12,915 ..... $2,470

Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage ..... $12,875 ..... $9,035

Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez ..... $12,810 ..... $12,675

Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla ..... $12,700 ..... $7,150

Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River ..... $12,215 ..... $6,890

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage ..... $12,120 ..... $4,819

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel ..... $12,090 ..... $6,760

Rep. Jim Elkins, R-Ketchikan ..... $11,605 ..... --

Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon ..... $11,495 ..... $5,330

Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell ..... $11,480 ..... $6,565

Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Palmer ..... $10,670 ..... $2,145

Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage ..... $10,440 ..... $2,739

Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla ..... $10,350 ..... $7,670

Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage ..... $10,185 ..... $4,689

Sen. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage ..... $10,105 ..... $3,537

Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole ..... $9,735 ..... $5,005

Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage ..... $9,730 ..... $2,665

Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Kenai ..... $9,545 ..... --

Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole ..... $9,250 ..... $3,900

Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, R-Eagle River ..... $9,110 ..... $2,665

Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage ..... $8,455 ..... $4,810

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer ..... $8,450 ..... $4,030

Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage ..... $8,305 ..... $4,029

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage ..... $8,100 ..... $0

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak ..... $8,090 ..... $0

Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines ..... $7,650 ..... --

Rep. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage ..... $7,645 ..... $8,524

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome ..... $7,540 ..... $6,370

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak ..... $7,435 ..... $4,225

Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage ..... $7,395 ..... $2,145

Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River ..... $7,130 ..... $3,315

Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage ..... $7,125 ..... $2,284

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai ..... $6,830 ..... $2,275

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau ..... $6,680 ..... $4,940

Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage ..... $6,160 ..... $3,949

Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage ..... $5,465 ..... $6,240

Sen. Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage ..... $5,250 ..... $412

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks ..... $4,120 ..... --

Rep. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage ..... $3,280 ..... --

Rep. Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage ..... $2,598 ..... $220

Rep. Woody Salmon, D-Beaver ..... $1,395 ..... --

Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks ..... $900 ..... 0

Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks ..... $430 ..... --

Rep. Carl Moses, D-Unalaska ..... $0 ..... $0

Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks ..... $0 ..... $0

Rep. Jim Holm, R-Fairbanks ..... $0 ..... $0

Note: Legislators without interim claims in 2004 did not hold office that year, and are noted with --.

Source: Legislative Affairs Agency

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