Legislative pay already on the rise

Posted: Sunday, March 08, 2009

Average legislator pay last year increased by about $1,460, according to Empire calculations of Legislative Affairs Agency data, to $61,660.

Legislators receive a nominal salary of $24,012 per year, but also get a type of "per diem" for each day that the Legislature is in session. In 2008, that exceeded their official salary.

They also receive another type of per diem called "long-term per diem," for days when they do legislative work while not in session.

The Legislature is currently awaiting a pay raise scheduled to take effect if lawmakers do not take action to block it. Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to block the increase, but both sponsors are members of legislative minorities, and it is not clear whether either bill will get a vote.

The pay raise recommended by the State Officers Salary Commission would do away with long-term per diem, which averaged about $11,000 last year, but raise salaries about $26,000 per year to $50,400.

The highest paid member of the House last year was former Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Bethel, who brought in $77,884. The top senator was Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, who collected $75,144. Those numbers do not include the office expense accounts. Legislative Affairs Agency records show Nelson took her office expense money in cash; Stedman did not.

Juneau legislators, who do not have to maintain two separate households, get paid less in session per diem than their colleagues.

Last year Sen. Kim Elton was paid a total of $52,493, Rep. Beth Kerttula $57,743 and Rep. Andrea Doll $62,843. Those amounts do not include office expense accounts.

The salary commission's report concluded that legislative pay is "poorly understood by the public and regarded as vaguely deceptive."

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