Alaska Legislature rejects pay raise for governor, commissioners
Mar. 7—JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature rejected a proposed pay increase Monday for the governor and his cabinet after the state's independent salary commission made no pay recommendations for the Legislature itself.
House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said the House was looking for a more "balanced" proposal from the State Officers Compensation Commission, which is composed of five members appointed by the governor. The House voted unanimously late Monday to reject the proposed executive branch pay raise.
The commission recommended in November that the governor's salary should be raised from $145,000 per year to $176,000, representing an inflation adjustment and a 2%-per-year increase since his last pay bump in 2011. The lieutenant governor's salary would increase following the same formula to around $140,000 per year and commissioners' salaries would increase to $168,000. But there were no changes proposed by the commission for legislators' pay.
The Senate unanimously rejected the same pay recommendations last week. Senate President Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, said the salary commission has failed in its duty to meaningfully debate pay for legislators since being established in 2008.
"They have never done their job or looked at things seriously," he said.
Larry Persily, who is a member of the commission and the owner of The Wrangell Sentinel, said the recent discussions about legislators' pay have been "unproductive" and "contentious." Former Republican state legislator Kurt Olson, who chairs the commission, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stevens said Monday there are currently no plans to abolish or reform the commission itself. But he said there could soon be debates about increasing salaries for legislators and the executive branch through stand-alone legislation or the budget.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy's $145,000-per-year salary ranked 28th among states in 2021, which is right around the average salary nationally for governors.
Stevens said Dunleavy has told him that he has struggled to hire commissioners on their current $125,000-per-year salaries. Eagle River Rep. Dan Saddler, who worked at Division of Natural Resources between stints serving in the Legislature, said $125,000 may sound like a lot of money, but that it can be an impediment to hiring highly skilled administrators.
"There are more opportunities in the private sector for people with those administrative talents," he said.
Last year, legislators swiftly rejected a proposed cut by the salary commission to their own compensation packages — which included a sharp reduction to per diem expense payments, and a smaller boost in their salaries. The overall result would have been an average pay cut of around $11,000 for legislators from $87,547 to $76,100 per year.
Saddler said senators had expressed concern that the current legislative pay package could prevent people of "ordinary means" or with young families from serving. He said senators had made convincing arguments that serving in the Legislature should not be reserved for retirees or wealthy Alaskans.
"Those are some pretty good arguments," Saddler said.
Legislators' salaries have not been adjusted since 2010 when the salary commission more than doubled them to $50,400 per year. But per diem payments have steadily increased since 2007 from $150 to $307 per legislative day in 2023. The commission was established through a 2008 bill, partly so lawmakers would avoid having to vote to raise their own salaries.
Under state law, the commission's recommendations become effective unless lawmakers pass a bill to reject them. A spokesperson for the governor's office said Dunleavy would not comment on the bill rejecting the proposed executive branch pay increases until it reaches his desk.