ANCHORAGE - Alaska legislators are getting a raise in their interim per diem pay that more than doubles the old rate.
Lawmakers can now collect $150 a day for working when the Legislature is not in session. The old daily rate of $65 had been in place since 1990.
The change took effect when it was approved June 29 by the Legislative Council, a joint House-Senate panel in charge of administrative duties.
The money is in addition to legislators' $24,012 annual salary, reimbursement for travel and relocation expenses, session per diem and office allowances. It is taxable income.
The amount received by legislators for interim pay varies greatly. Last year 10 of the 60 state legislators didn't seek any. Most got less than $5,000. Three lawmakers topped $10,000.
To qualify for a day's pay, lawmakers either must attend a meeting for a legislative or public purpose, or spend at least four hours of the day on legislative and constituent business.
Unlike salaries and payments to cover expenses during the legislative session, the interim pay is not automatic. Lawmakers must send in vouchers. As long as legislators are in a public meeting or work for at least four hours, those who request the money will get it, said Pam Varni, Legislative Affairs executive director, whose office processes per diem claims.
Pay issues are a sensitive topic for lawmakers, who split 8-2 in approving the higher daily rate.
"I was absolutely in shock," said Rep. Sharon Cissna, an Anchorage Democrat who is not on the Legislative Council but voted against efforts to boost lawmaker pay during the regular session.
Her interim pay is near the top, totaling $10,140 for 2004 and about the same as the year before. She said she collects more than most because she is one of few legislators who works at it full time.
Cissna co-chairs the Legislature's Health Caucus and is traveling the state to survey community and health leaders about health care issues. She pays for her own travel but collects the daily rate to cover her time, she said.
Cissna said she'll likely use the increase to contract for research assistance.
Lawmakers don't want to appear to be enriching themselves but many lose money when their legislative duties pull them away from their regular jobs, said Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River and Legislative Council chairman.
Kott collected $3,315 in per diem pay last year but said he's not diligent about sending in claims. "Half the time, I forget them."
Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, said he proposed an even higher rate of $200 a day but is satisfied with the $150.
The $24,000 salary is too low, and so was the old interim rate, he said.
"Legislators, from my own experience, work their tails off," said Weyhrauch, an attorney who collected $3,055 in interim per diem pay last year.
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