JUNEAU, Alaska — A state commission’s recommendation to limit which lawmakers would be eligible for a daily allowance was political and marred by poor reasoning, an Alaska lawmaker said Friday.
Rep. David Guttenberg, a Fairbanks Democrat, wants lawmakers to have a discussion on the issue and has proposed legislation to reject the State Officers Compensation Commission recommendation. Guttenberg’s bill is scheduled for a hearing on Monday.
The panel found that lawmakers should not receive the allowance, known as per diem, if their primary home is within 50 miles of a legislative session.
Juneau’s three legislators would be affected during regular and special sessions held in Alaska’s capital city. More legislators would be affected if any special sessions were held in Anchorage.
The panel’s recommendation was submitted to the Legislature on Jan. 17, said Kate Sheehan, director of the state Division of Personnel and Labor Relations.
The recommendation will take effect in January 2019 unless a bill disapproving it is enacted within 60 days of the submission date.
Guttenberg said the recommendation doesn’t affect him so he felt comfortable proposing the bill. He said he was disappointed in the commission discussion surrounding the issue.
“I was hoping, when I listened to it, that I would find a nonpolitical, nonpartisan rationale of a discussion and that’s not what I found,” he said.
Duane Bannock, whose term on the commission expired Thursday, supported the panel’s recommendation on allowances, along with a failed proposal to cut lawmakers’ salaries. He pushed back on Guttenberg’s characterizations.
Should people receive per diem if they sleep in their own beds and eat food from their own refrigerators, he asked. “Is that a political matter?” Bannock said.
Trying to undo the commission’s action is itself political, Bannock said.
The five-member commission is appointed by the governor, with one of the members appointed from a list submitted by the Senate president and one from a list submitted by the House speaker.
In written comments to the commission in January, Bruce Botelho, a former state attorney general and former mayor of Juneau, said the panel’s proposals seemed borne of frustration over recent legislative gridlock rather than providing for equitable rates.
All legislators incur legitimate expenses during session, he said, adding that the current per diem system takes that into account by setting a lower allowance rate for Juneau-based legislators.
Currently, non-Juneau legislators are eligible for $275 a day in per diem. Juneau legislators are eligible for $206.25 a day, according to the Legislative Affairs Agency.
It’s not clear if Guttenberg’s bill will gain traction. Republican Senate President Pete Kelly of Fairbanks said his caucus doesn’t have a position on the measure but said he doesn’t like how the panel’s recommendation singled out certain lawmakers.
“Even though they don’t have the same expenses that we have, the fact is that they’re still involved in session for many, many days per year and it’s difficult for them to get other jobs or have other businesses,” he said.