Alaska House changes its mind on cutting per diem
Last updated at 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, March 16
The Alaska House’s Democrat-led majority has changed its mind about adjusting its own per diem rates this year.
After hours of debate, the Alaska House voted 32 to five to slash funding in the budget for the payments. A later vote approved the measure by 34 to five. Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, and Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, were not present for the first vote on the measure Thursday. They were included on the record as yes votes after the House rescinded the action and revoted.
Currently, lawmakers receive a monthly allocation based on a federally set calculation to cover the costs of food and housing — which rose earlier this month from $213 to $275 a day.
Last month, a proposal in the House Finance Committee would have cut the per diem amount by 75 percent and eliminate the payments entirely for Juneau lawmakers, but leadership pulled it from consideration.
Rep. Paul Seaton, co-chair of the House Finance Committee, said legally, any change to the per diem amount would have to be made by the Legislature’s governing body — the Legislative Council.
But Thursday, 18 of the caucus’ 22 members reintroduced the proposal on the House floor, suggesting all legislators per diem payments be cut by 75 percent.
“I’m bewildered that this is now coming to the House floor, it’s an amazing turn of events,” said Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, who said the minority caucus would show “teamwork” in supporting it since it is an effort to reduce the budget.
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, said he hoped Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage, who introduced the amendment Thursday, would explain why the House was spending hours debating it again after Grenn voted down the same proposal in the House Finance Committee.
“I wanted to have a debate with all 40 members, not just have a decision made by a small group of us in committee,” Grenn said in an interview after the vote.
While the Legislative Council has assigned a subcommittee to take up per diem, House Majority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck said his caucus decided to take action on the House floor because it didn’t appear the issue was going anywhere there or in the Senate.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, suggested updating the budget amendment to reflect the new, higher federal rates. The House majority silently voted it down. Grenn later said that because the state budget hadn’t yet increased to reflect the recent increase in federal per diem rate, his proposal couldn’t be adapted as Wilson suggested.