The doors of the Alaska State Capitol were open Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, though the Alaska State Legislature was not in session. They will be soon, however, as Gov. Mike Dunleavy has called a fourth special session of the year. Lawmakers receive a per diem for days in session, and with so many special sessions those costs can add up. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Per diem for special sessions? It’s up to lawmakers

Even with Gov’s veto, lawmakers can find the money

They’ll have to move some money around to do it, but lawmakers will be able to pay themselves daily allowances known as per diems for all the Alaska State Legislature’s special sessions this year.

According to Legislative Finance Director Alexei Painter, there are a number of fund sources available to the Alaska State Legislature that can be used for per diem payments, the Legislature just has to decide if that’s what it wants to do. Lawmakers are responsible for maintaining the budget of the Legislature just like any other state department, Painter said, and can choose to redirect funds to other purposes.

“Basically, the Legislature has a management decision.” Painter said.

Earlier this year, Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed funds budgeted for per diems after lawmakers sent him a budget bill with only about $500 for a Permanent Fund dividend, which he called “a slap in the face” to some Alaskans. Divisions in the Legislature have led to three special sessions already this year, with another set to begin Oct. 4.

The governor vetoed 120 days worth of per diem —the statutory length of a regular session —but Painter said lawmakers can simply choose to fund that expense using other funds, which was also true of the special session per diems.

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The Legislature typically budgets 30 days’ worth of special session per diem each year, said Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, who chairs the bicameral Legislative Council, but that money has been spent. Hannan told the Empire Friday the issue was discussed in a recent meeting and lawmakers are aware a decision will need to be made about where to find the funds.

The Alaska State Officers Compensation Commission sets salaries for legislators, according to the Legislative Affairs Agency, and this year’s per diem was $293.

“My anecdotal sense is that members who travel from out of town want that,” Hannan said of the payments.

Per diem payments are paid in addition to lawmakers’ salaries — this year $50,400 — and are meant to cover expenses for traveling to Juneau. As a Juneau resident, Hannan doesn’t receive the payments but said she’d likely support the payments as many lawmakers have to travel significant distances to reach the capital city.

“That’s one of the costs of having a citizen legislature,” Hannan said.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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