Per diems driving special session costs

The cost to taxpayers of going past the 90-day legislative session set by state law is roughly $1 million – and rising. However, lawmakers can legally have a regular session of 121 days — as they did this year — because it is written into the state Constitution.

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The additional costs are driven by the daily allowances that lawmakers receive for each day of the extra legislative time – known as a “per diem” – and the additional cost of paying their aides’ salaries.

Senate President Pete Kelly said the cost must be understood in the context of the major issues the Legislature is attempting to resolve, and the total cost of state government.

“We certainly don’t want to cave in on issues that maybe are not in the best interests of Alaska simply to save a few dollars here and there, in comparison with how much is spent overall,” Kelly said.

The regular 121-day session ended on May 17th, when Governor Bill Walker called lawmakers into legislative overtime.

The cost of the additional 30 days of the special session is not yet calculated but it is expected to be higher than the $700,000 it cost last year for a similar extension. That’s because more legislative aides are working this year, and per diems went up.

Lawmakers who represent areas outside Juneau receive $295 for each day of the special session. Juneau lawmakers receive $221.25 per day.

Some lawmakers say they won’t claim per diems for each day of extra time. Anchorage Independent Jason Grenn said he won’t claim per diems during the entire special session.

Friday was the ninth day of the special session. Past special sessions have cost between $20,000 and $30,000 per day.

Kelly said he expects the cost of the special session to be lower on the Senate side of the legislature this year. That’s because the Senate is trying to reduce the number of aides in Juneau.

“As a diligent manager, I’m sending as many people home as I can to save on those costs, but we’re not going to do something that’s not in the best interests of Alaskans just to save some money on a special session,” Kelly said.

Another cost for the special session is the housing expenses for legislative aides. 25 House aides have been approved for housing this month, with costs ranging from $25 to $129 per day. Aides say the beginning of tourism season has raised housing costs in Juneau.

The aides must provide receipts to be reimbursed.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the regular session is 121 days. Under the constitution, it says 120 days “from” the first day of the session, which the courts have interpreted to mean that 120 days doesn’t include the first day, which means the session is 121 days. And all special sessions are limited to 30 days, not 31. 

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at

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