Alaska lawmakers get increase to office allowances

The Anchorage Daily NewsMarch 18, 2011 

JUNEAU — Three weeks ago, the Legislature doubled the office allowance for its members, and on Thursday, a House member who didn't want the extra $8,000 said he learned he must take it anyway.

"I wanted to have the ability not to participate in that increase," Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, told the Legislative Council, the joint House-Senate committee that manages the Legislature's business. "We were told summarily that we couldn't."

The council on Feb. 24 increased the annual office allowance for House members from $8,000 to $16,000 and for senators from $10,000 to $20,000. It backdated the raise to Jan. 1, assuring all the money could be collected this year.

Legislators have broad discretion for spending the allowance, including taking it in a lump-sum check and paying income taxes on it. According to the Legislative Affairs Agency, nine of 60 legislators do that this year, effectively adding to their $50,400 annual salary.

"They can spend it on whatever they want," said Pam Varni, director of the Legislative Affairs Agency. "They don't get as much money to use because they're paying taxes on it."

Legislators can avoid taxes on the money by asking the agency to manage it in a state account and disperse it only when they present receipts for official expenses. The remaining 51 either do that or combine a partial lump-sum payment, with taxes withheld, with a managed account.

The raise was little noticed outside of the Legislature. The Feb. 24 meeting began after 5 p.m.

According to the minutes of that meeting, Stoltze voted against the raise, which passed 10-4.

To read the complete article, visit www.adn.com.

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