Per diem claims up lawmaker pay

House Speaker Chenault topped legislators in seeking extra pay

Posted: Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hard-working House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, led all legislators last year in collecting out-of-session per diem, an extra pay boost that lawmakers get while working on legislative business when not in session.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Empire calculations from Legislative Affairs Agency data show that Chenault was paid $89,250 last year for serving as a legislator, tops among his peers.

Among the factors that go into total pay are last year's official salary of $24,012 for most legislators, per diem paid during the session of $189 a day for most legislators, and per diem paid for days worked outside session of $150. Some legislators, such as Chenault, took their office expense accounts as salary as well.

That brought average legislator pay last year to $65,400.

The amount of out-of-session per diem claimed last year rose substantially, after legislators spent fewer days in regular sessions than in recent years.

Along the way to becoming the top-paid legislator, Chenault claimed per diem for nearly every day in 2009, apparently not taking a single day off from his legislative duties during the year.

"Pretty much no days," Chenault confirmed.

Chenault said that his duties as presiding officer of the largest house of the legislature took substantial time.

"Not only did I represent my district fairly well, but I attended lots of meetings and attended lots of constituent events," he said.

Other legislators took varying lesser amounts, down to the independently wealthy Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, who claimed no per diem at all.

Members of the State Officer Salary Commission last year abolished out-of-session per diem, formally called "Long Term Per Diem," out of concern that it was not being fairly allocated.

Chenault said many other legislators could have claimed more per diem but chose not to.

"They have to live with their constituents," he said. "There may be a number of reasons why they chose not to take it."

Members of the Legislature who work four or more hours on legislative business are eligible to claim out-of-session per diem.

The differences in legislative pay were minimized this year when the new compensation system took effect at the start of the year, paying legislators $50,400 a year and eliminating out-of-session per diem.

Compensation commission Chair Rick Halford said that eliminating the inequities of the old system was one of the goals of the new pay structure.

In addition, the commission also had hoped to increase pay, which some members thought was too low.

"We tried to get back to what we thought was reasonable," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.





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