If you can say anything about the Alaska Legislature you safely can say it has a tin ear.
After telling Alaskans the state cannot afford a full, statutory Permanent Fund dividend that would put about $3,000 in each Alaskan’s pocket, lawmakers turn around and authorize themselves to pick up per diem for the just completed special session – despite a law that says they cannot.
The Legislative Council, which handles the Legislature’s interim business, approved the retroactive payments as the special session ended. Sen. Gary Stevens, the panel’s chairman, says lawmakers can decide whether they want the $302 a day allowance.
If all 57 lawmakers who do not live in Juneau claim the $302 per diem for each day of the special session they failed to pass a budget – 26 days beginning May 16 and ending June 10 – the tab would be about $447,564, or more than $17,000 a day. The total would fund something like 149 full dividends all by itself.
It is not the first time lawmakers have turned a blind eye to Alaska law.
Last year, monied Outside interests were trying to push the Alaska Governmental Accountability Act, which supposedly was aimed at curbing lawmakers’ conflicts of interests and contacts with lobbyists. For good measure, it would have made per diem contingent on lawmakers passing a fully funded budget.
Legislators passed their own measure mirroring the initiative to head it off, even including a ban on per diem payments if there is no operating budget by the 121st day of the Legislature.
Many lawmakers are refusing to vote for a Permanent Fund dividend calculated under a law passed in 1982 and still in effect. Instead, they say Alaska no longer can afford to use that statute – and simply want to ignore it. Now, they want to ignore a law they passed barely a year ago to collect per diem.
How are Alaskans to respect the law and the Legislature when lawmakers are so cavalier about Alaska’s laws.