NEWS: Pre-filed Bill Seeks to End High Cost Legislator Hotel, Dining, and Special Session Perks

Alaska state and flag

Bill Sponsored by Reps. Gara, Ortiz, and Drummond

January 13,2016

Anchorage – Today, three members of the Alaska House of Representatives announced that they have pre-filed legislation to stop expensive charges by some legislators for hotels and meals.  The bill also bans legislators from claiming per diem payments, which can exceed $200 per day, when Special Sessions are held in their home towns with no actual hotel costs.  Last summer, some legislators and staff billed the state over $400 and $500 per night (including taxes) for hotel rooms in Seattle to attend the annual summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures.  This occurred as the state is facing a more than $3 billion budget shortfall.

"If a legislator wants to stay in a fancy hotel or eat an expensive meal then they can pay for it themselves.  When Special Sessions move to a lawmaker’s home town they should not charge the state for per diem for sleeping in their own home,” said Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage), who has not travelled for a legislative conference this decade.  “As we grapple with a more than $3 billion budget deficit, we should be good stewards of the public’s money.”

Rep. Gara, a member of the House Finance Committee, is the prime sponsor of the pre-filed legislation.  Co-sponsors include Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan) and Rep. Harriet Drummond (D-Anchorage). 

During last summer’s special session in Anchorage some Republican lawmakers from the Anchorage area accepted the allowable $200 per day per diem payment.  However, no Anchorage-area Democrats sought Special Session per diem when the session was moved to their hometown.  Additionally, none stayed at the controversial $400 to $500 Seattle hotels.

“The responsible thing to do during a fiscal crisis is to spend the state’s money wisely and cut out waste by not spending money on lavish accommodations and meals,” said Rep. Ortiz.  “Being fiscally responsible during this time of extreme short funding should be a bipartisan effort and I am confident passage of this bill will be a piece towards the larger goal of getting the state’s finances squared away.” 

The pre-filed bill seeks to limit spending on lawmaker and staff travel by capping hotel reimbursement at no more than $150 a night.  If a lawmaker goes to a city with high hotel costs on legislative business, they can bill only up to the federal lodging per diem rate.  However, any costs above the $150 cap would come from the legislator’s office account.  The federal hotel per diem rate varies by city and season, based on the actual costs for an average hotel in that city.  However, the federal rate does not come close to approaching $500 per night for a room in Seattle.

The pre-filed legislation also seeks to cap meal reimbursement costs at $8 for breakfast and lunch.  The cap would be $12 for dinner, rather than the $40 for dinner that would have been allowed during last summer’s Seattle conference.  The bill would also ban legislators from accepting per diem during Special Sessions when they don’t have any hotel costs and the session is in their home area.

"When the expensive and overly-extended Special Session moved to Anchorage, I did not accept, nor would I be comfortable accepting, per diem payments to cover costs I did not incur,” said Rep. Drummond.  “During these troubling fiscal times in Alaska, I think it’s only prudent that we look for simple ways to save the state money.  This bill does just that.”

Rep. Drummond attended the annual summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures in August of last year in Seattle.  That conference prompted a public outcry due to the large amount of state money spent on hotel and meal costs for Alaska lawmakers and their staff.  Rep. Drummond stayed with a friend in Seattle and did not collect any state money to reimburse housing and meal costs. 

The bill seeking to limit per diem spending and hotel and meal costs has been pre-filed in advance of the start of the Second Session of the 29th Alaska Legislature, which begins on January 19, 2016. 

For more information, contact Rep. Gara at (907) 250-0106.


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