Commission decisions correct

The State Officers Compensation Commission did the right thing, if only by default, in backtracking and declining to cut Alaska lawmakers’ salaries, which now stand at $50,400 annually.

While it was not slam-dunk decision to avoid the cuts – the vote was a deadlocked 2-2, with one member absent – the outcome helps preserve the notion of a citizen Legislature, where anybody, not just the wealthy, can serve.

The idea behind cutting the pay, apparently, was to have lawmakers feel budget constraints as the state wrestles with a $2.7 billion deficit. On its face, it was punitive and unnecessary. It would have made serving the public less appealing and, in some cases, prohibitive.

In the past, the commission waffled at the idea of cutting the pay. It unanimously proposed cutting legislative salaries by 10 percent at an October meeting, then some members tried to undo the cuts, but a motion to reject them failed on a 2-3 vote. Then the panel decided to hold the cuts in abeyance until next January, well after this year’s elections.

In another good decision, the panel decided that lawmakers who live within 50 miles of a legislative session cannot receive per diem, a decision that will have the most immediate effect on the three legislators who live in Juneau. An Anchorage session would affect more.

Alaskans often find themselves at odds with the very people they send to Juneau to do the public’s work. In many cases, it is unfair. Those who serve find themselves away from home for months at a time, maintaining, in essence, two households and all the hassle that entails.

Despite the public’s penchant for legislator bashing – and we engage in it, too – we need citizen lawmakers and should be looking for ways to encourage more participation, not less. Cutting salaries just to make a point is a lousy way to stir interest.

The commission, even if reluctantly, did the right thing.


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