Wrangell Sentinel

Alaska legislators will get a 67% pay raise next January — from $50,000 to $84,000 a year — and the governor and state department heads will receive a 20% boost effective July 1.

The wage hikes come after Gov. Mike Dunleavy replaced an independent salary commission that was unable to agree on a pay hike for lawmakers, with the new members convening on short notice to recommend the raises.

An entirely new five-member commission met March 15 and added the legislators’ pay increase to an earlier recommendation that the governor, lieutenant governor and state commissioners receive raises intended to cover inflation back to their last pay raise.

The meeting was called on two days’ notice and lasted just 15 minutes. The member who made the motion for a legislative pay raise, Duff Mitchell, of Juneau, later said the $84,000 salary recommendation had come from the Legislature and he also may have talked about the idea when he was interviewed by a member of the governor’s staff for the commission position.

Of the five commission members replaced by new gubernatorial appointees, two had resigned before the meeting and three were dismissed by Dunleavy less than 24 hours before the meeting.

Earlier this month, before the new commission members added a pay hike for legislators to their report, both the House and Senate voted to reject the wage recommendations that covered only the governor and his cabinet. Multiple legislators expressed frustration that the commission had not done anything about legislative pay, which has not increased since 2010.

Dunleavy on March 20 vetoed the Legislature’s rejection of the original commission report so that the new recommendations, which include a pay boost for lawmakers, could take effect.

Efforts by some legislators to call a joint session to possibly override the governor’s veto failed on March 22 when the state Senate declined to meet.

The governor’s salary will increase by 21% from $145,000 per year to $176,000, roughly covering inflation since the last pay raise in 2011. The lieutenant governor’s salary would increase by around 10% following the same formula to just over $140,000 per year.

Department commissioners’ salaries will increase by 20% since their last raise in 2015, from just over $140,000 to $168,000.

Legislators’ pay will be set at 50% of a commissioner’s salary, or $84,000 for next year.

Many lawmakers have complained over the years of the high cost of maintaining homes in both Juneau and their home districts, and the financial squeeze that keeps some Alaskans from serving in elected office. There have also been concerns that the salaries offered for the heads of state agencies are not competitive.

The new pay rate does not change per diem expense payments for legislators, which allow them to collect $307 tax-free per legislative day. Per diem payments add roughly $37,000 per year for legislators who claim them during an entire 121-day legislative session.

Alaska’s independent salary commission was established in 2008, in part so lawmakers would not need to vote to increase their own salaries.

Anchorage Daily News reporting contributed to this story.