Alaska leads nation in legislative staff per capita
When it comes to population, Alaska state legislators have the most staff of any state in the country. After hearing the numbers, at least two Alaska lawmakers are saying that number could be cut as soon as this session.
Alaska lawmakers gaveled into session this week. You see the pomp and circumstance of what goes on during the House and Senate floor session, but behind the scenes, there are hundreds of legislative staff to help them govern. Not including lawmakers, Alaska has 453 legislative staff. That number does not fall in line with the rest of the country.
Over the years, the number of legislative staff has grown. In 1970, lawmakers had 276 staff members. However, by last year’s legislative session, that number was 453. Those numbers come from the National Conference of State Legislators and Alaska Legislator’s human resources manager.
Alaska has almost seven staffers for every 10,000 Alaskans. That’s the highest in the country by a wide margin. The number two state, Hawaii, has just four staffers for every 10,000 people. Alaska has more than three times the staff of the number four state, which is Rhode Island. Ohio has the smallest number of legislative staff, less than half a staffer for every 10,000 people.
By sheer numbers, Alaska, with a population of 738,432, has about the same number of staffers as Ohio, except it has more than 12 times the population. Alaska has one legislative staffer for 1,439 Alaskans. Ohio has one for every 24,398 people.
Let’s compare by similar population. North Dakota has about the same number of people as Alaska. However, Alaska has a lot more staff -- more than 300 more legislative staffers. That’s four times the staff North Dakota lawmakers have.
We contacted the state’s legislative council to ask how the numbers break out. The legal division director told us that North Dakota has 141 lawmakers who share 2-4 staff members during session. In Alaska, 60 lawmakers share 178 staffers.
Senator John Coghill (R-North Pole) agrees that’s a large number.
“That is a lot, and the ability to work is unique amongst legislators some do it very well and some are probably much lighter in their work load and yet the cost is the same, so I think that’s a worth while challenge to us,” Coghill said.
The Republican says the big difference between Alaska and other states is that Alaska’s state government provides more services for local government. However, Sen. Coghill says he’s been critical of Alaska’s large staff levels in the past.
“It’s a rationale that’s worthy of a challenge in my view,” he said.
According to records from human resources, during last session, in the House, all of the 40 members except two, Rep. Chris Birch and Rep. Mark Neuman, had at least two personal staff members. Most had two or three, and three members, Rep. Neal Foster, Rep. Sam Kito and Rep. Paul Seaton, had four.
In the Senate last session, most of the 20 members had three personal staffers. Six of them had four, and two, former Sen. Mike Dunleavy and Sen. Lyman Hoffman have six.
Some of those lawmakers have more staff if they are on a committee like Finance, or head a majority committee like Budget and Audit, and Legislative Council.
That doesn’t include 16 floor staff, seven people in the press office, six staff in the Senate and House Majority Offices, 12 staffers in the Records Department, seven in the Senate Secretary’s office, four in Legislative Ethics, seven Lounge staff members and six in the Chief Clerk’s office. Lawmakers share all those staff members.
Let’s compare Alaska’s Senate District J in West Anchorage to Maine’s Senate District 27 -- which sits in the Bangor area. Both have almost the identical number of constituents. However, Alaska’s 20 senators have 74 staff members. Maine’s 34 senators, however, share 12 staff members.
House Majority Leader Chris Tuck says he needs his three legislative staff members.
“I can tell you we’ve been utilizing our staff to the fullest extent,” he said.
The Anchorage Democrat says he wouldn’t be as effective as he is without them. However, Rep. Tuck says there could be changes coming.
“Alaska’s facing some fiscal times right now," Tuck said. "There’s going be cuts going everywhere and as you’ll see over last few years we’ve been reducing staff and we’ll probably be reducing staff again this year.”
KTVA also gave the House Minority and the Senate Minority a chance to comment on this story, however, they declined.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.