So far, Alaska lawmakers have collected $393,340 dollars in per diem during special sessions this year, according to numbers provided by the Legislative Affairs Agency Thursday. The legislature is now likely headed for a third — after negotiations on oil taxes derailed Wednesday. That would cost the state hundreds of thousands more.
Because the state capitol building is operational year round, a lot of the cost incurred for a special session stems from per diem payments to cover legislative meals and lodging, as well as travel.
Lawmakers have been divided on where to work this special session. This week, the Senate is in Juneau — most of the House is in Anchorage. House leadership has framed its decision to allow members to go home as a cost-saving measure.
“I can’t keep members down here with limited hotel availability, and, you know, tourism at full tilt,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) said of the decision at a press conference last month.
While the House may have saved on travel, it’s collected more on per diem payments for members than its Senate counterparts — $1,569 more per person, according to numbers from the Legislative Affairs Agency.
Within the House, the majority and minority caucus have approached the subject differently. Minority leader Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage) claimed by far the most in per diem this special session. But she is in a leadership position and several of her Republican colleagues have stayed in Juneau.
“The governor asked us to be here, we are mandated to be here because we’re legislators. This is where we’re supposed to be, doing the work that were supposed to be doing,” Millett told reporters at a press conference Thursday.
According to legislative rules, the minority must have at least one member present in Juneau to carry out technical floor sessions, while the rest of the House is away. While the Majority has two Juneau-based members, Millett told KTVA she would have had to pay out of pocket to fly back and forth between Anchorage and Juneau, every three days. A roundtrip ticket ranges between $600-$700.
Most majority members have not claimed per diem while in their home districts. But Rep. Sam Kito III (D-Juneau), who lives in the capital city, has.
“When I’m in the office related to special session, I do claim per diem. When I’m not, then I don’t,” Kito said in an interview Monday. “It is impacting every single one of us, including myself.”
Whether in Juneau, or Anchorage, for most lawmakers it’s a gamble between saving the state money and spending money to get to agreements that could have long-term savings. If they are to do that, lawmakers will need to be at the same table.
Numbers provided by the Legislative Affairs Agency Thursday are based on claims currently submitted, but may not be the final tally. Lawmakers can still submit per diem claims retroactively.
This second special session is slated to end on Saturday, but, at this point, lawmakers will be hard-pressed to meet that deadline. The House has adjourned until Friday, which leaves one day to gather enough votes to revive and pass the only bill on the call, House Bill 111, on oil taxes.