Commentary: Alaska's legislators deserve a raise

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

Would you work for $24,000 a year at the peak of your career, if you had a choice?

State legislators, who last got a pay raise in 1991, make that much in basic salary. It's about what clerks or janitors on the state payroll might make, says Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency. Legislators also get living expense money of $165 per day when they pick up and move to Juneau for a few months each year and must maintain two households.

And they can claim variable amounts of money for every day they work four hours or more when the Legislature is not in session.

That interim pay, called "long term per diem," is on the honor system. A half dozen legislators claim enough between-sessions work to boost their total compensation to more than $50,000. Some claim little or nothing. Including long term per diem in 2007, the average legislator brought home $35,000.

A new state commission has recommended doing away with the honor-system per diem between sessions, and raising legislative pay to a flat $50,400.

That makes sense. It treats all legislators the same, and avoids abuse by legislators who may be tempted to claim more work time than they actually put in.

As Rep. Mike Doogan has said, better pay should lead to a more diverse group of lawmakers. Now, legislative service is easiest for financially secure business people or retirees.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.