Pay raise flap continues

Democratic Reps. Les Gara from Anchorage, and Scott Kawasaki from Fairbanks, have gotten a lot of attention recently for opposing a proposed pay raise for Gov. Sean Parnell, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, and the 14 commissioners in Parnell’s cabinet. The publicity has had an impact. On Saturday, Parnell announced that he would not accept the pay raise that would have jumped his salary from $145,000 to $154,644 by fiscal year 2015.

However, Parnell supports the other pay raises, which include bumping the lieutenant governor’s salary from $115,000 to $122,649 by 2015 and commissioners from $136,350 to $149,796.24 by 2015.

“The proposed increases are consistent with increases received by the majority of state employees,” the state commission that recommended the salaries wrote. Indeed, dozens of state works and at least 40, if not more, members of unions working for the Municipality of Anchorage make significantly more money than either the commissioners or the governor.

Parnell’s announcement hasn’t dampened Gara and Kawasaki’s enthusiasm to pass a bill next legislative session that would deny the others the raise. On Tuesday, Gara sent out an email to all 60 legislators, looking for additional sponsors.

Unless the legislature acts, raises will take place automatically, a procedure that Gara and Kawasaki both voted for in 2008, when they also voted to double legislative salaries from $24,012 a year to $50,400.

Since the legislative raise took place, legislators who live outside of Juneau get paid about $238 in per diem a day for the 90 day session, and for any days beyond the regular session. In 2012, the maximum per diem was $24,439.  This is on top of their salaries.

In addition to their salaries and per diems, each legislator gets money to travel for state business and House members get $16,000 a year and each senator $20,000. Ostensibly, this money was to be used for office expenses. However, until recently, legislators could pocket the money to use as income if they chose to do so. (It should be noted that in 2012, Gara only used $8,000 of his allotted funds.)

Neither commissioners nor the legislators have to pay any monthly premium for what’s considered today to be “Cadillac” insurance.

Most legislators do work between legislative sessions. Last session, however, Kawasaki didn’t want to work between sessions, nor do all of them want to stay when a special session is called. Last session, for instance, Kawasaki asked if he could be excused from the call of the House from the time the legislature was set to gavel out in mid-April until the time they are back in session next January. He was told by House leadership that he couldn’t.

Contact Amanda Coyne at

Clarification: Gara and Kawasaki voted against the final bill to establish a salary commission.


12 thoughts on “Pay raise flap continues

  1. Liberty

    Read the comments and couldn’t help laughing at Representative Gara’s commentary. Does this guy do anything substantive in Juneau? I read his quips and quotes from time to time about what others are doing bu never anything substantive that is a result of his work. Maybe Gara should talk less and do more. Just sayin’.

  2. Cindy Lee

    I really enjoy reading your blog and have never commented on any article or blog before. Representative “Tongue-boy” Kawasaki is a joke and an embarassment to many of us who live in Fairbanks. He accomplishes nothing in Juneau. Looks like a 98 pound weakling and thinks he’s a ladies man to the point that his advances have become legendary primarily because they are unwanted. Last session, the Fairbanks delegation held a press conference to apologize for his exploits of sticking his tongue out on the floor. Glad you mentioned his attempt to be paid year round without wanting to be held accountable. I don’t know Les Gara but if he is associoating with Kawasaki, well, he too must be a flake or lack judgement at a minimum. This guy should never question the value of someone else’s compensation.

  3. former legislative staffer

    Good article. Rep. Gara is known fopr his Juneau gamesmanship and doesn’t get called on the carpet for it very often.

  4. W. Miller

    Is Gara a crybaby or what ? This guy is the democrat’s version of Ted Cruz. All thatre and does nothing. I’m a republican and think that we have our share of dandies and certainly would put Gara in that same category. Truth be told he flips and flops on votes so much that he can jave his cake and eat it too. Thjs loser is all about political theatre. He’s probably one of the least effective leguslators in Juneau. You have to wonder why is constituents keep sending him back to Juneau. We should all send Gara a boso when he whines, which seems to be all the time, he can wipe away the tears. Here’s a suggestion : put together the best and worst list of 2013 and be fair. It should look something like this :1) least effective legislator : Gara 2) legislator who wost : Gara 3) legislator who flip flops on votes the most : Gara 4) biggest hypocrite : Gara 5) legislator with least understanding of economics : Gara. There you go Gara, real recognition – – the kind your sorry ass deserves.

  5. Les Gara

    OK – so much for memory from 5 years ago. As stated, I did vote against creating the salary commission when it came to the House on final passage – i.e. on whether it should become law. I voted no for the reasons I stated in my other post.

    I mangled who else voted No. And my memory was off on my votes when it was in the House earlier that session. When the bill came up a month or two later, for a final vote, and whether it should pass both houses, I had become convinced the bill was bad policy, and voted against creating the salary commission.

  6. Les Gara

    One more correction. I just noticed another inaccuracy.

    I never voted to increase my salary or for the commission that raised it, as the blog post states. That bill (creating a salary commission that can raise salaries without a legislative vote) came up three times. On the first vote I voted against the bill. A day later when it came up on “reconsideration” I was convinced the positives outweighed the negatives and voted “yes”. Fortunately, I got to consider the pros and cons for more than a day – when it came back from the senate for a final vote later in the legislative session. I voted against it on the final vote (by that time it was rolled into a larger bill on state employee pay increases. While I supported those, I did not support the salary commission bill that was added to the periodic employee pay raise bill, and voted “No”.

    I had reached the conclusion, and still conclude, the negatives (potentially no public debate or vote before a legislative salary increase took effect) outweighed a argument by the sponsor (he fairly argued that that if a legislative vote to raise legislative salaries were required, salaries would rarely be raised).

    The bill passed with a handful of us on both sides of the aisle voting against it. From memory the no votes were myself, Rep. Stolze (R-Chigiak), Rep. Kawasaki (D-Fbx) – and a few others, I think. I do remember my vote. I’m going from my memory of the roll call – on a bill that passed 5 or so years ago – on the other “no” votes.

  7. Les Gara

    A few things. Happy to see the discussion but it should be on accurate facts.

    First, for the past year, since it’s inception , I opposed turning a hefty sum (at least for urban legislators with low travel costs) of $16,000/yr. of Legislative office account money into “Salary” which legislators don’t have to account for. That was an ill-conceived change, and I have fought it since last December. A few weeks ago it was finally reversed. Rep. Kawasaki and I introduced legislation that has now been adopted by the Legislative Council. Legislators no longer get to keep leftover funds – something we have asked to be corrected all year by letter and in our bill. Office funds must, starting Jan 1 with the new change, and per what we proposed in our bill – be only spent on approved office expenses, and extra funds go back to the state’s general fund, so they cannot be kept by legislators as salary. Letting legislators not account for, and potentially keep, $16,000 in office account funds was wrong in my mind, and at a minimum caused voter to wonder if legislators were keeping this money that is, by statute, intended to be spent on office supplies and expenses.

    Second, the commissioner pay argument has gotten convoluted. Last year the Governor introduced a bill for commissioner pay increases for 2014 and 2015 – presumably one which he studied before introducing. We passed it. Commissioners were already getting the Governor-recommended pay increase for the next 2 years. The raises the Salary commission recommended after we passed that bill – and that the Governor wants to add now, are roughly 8% for 2014. This extra $7,000 (approx.) raise is above the raise the Governor recommended and that the Legislature passed earlier this year.

    That needs to be discussed – why is a governor who studied and proposed raises we passed, now asking for larger ones that what he told us just this year were the proper raises? I have also publicly said I am willing to listen – I think a case can be made for a larger raise for the one or two commissioners who have overwhelming workloads. But not for all 14 commissioners, most of whom just took their jobs in the past few years. For most, who take these jobs to protect the public interest, not because of money, I think $136,000 plus benefits and travel and lodging costs is a pretty good salary.

    We’ve asked if our colleagues would want to join as co-sponsors.

    I did, and still do, think the Governor, who makes over $140,000 a year should not get a pay raise in times of austerity – when schools, for example, are going to be asked to cut teachers/staff a fourth year in a row as proposed by the Governor’s budget. That’s a hefty salary my most Alaskan standards, and I don’t want a Governor who wouldn’t take the job unless s/he gets paid more than a salary that is likely at least triple what most Alaskans wage earners get paid.

    Happy to hear all sides, especially if folks address these facts as well. Les Gara

  8. Lynn Willis

    Political theater. Soon enough this current generation of legislators will be loathed by Alaskans who will remember them as the trust babies who spent our children’s future. Pouring more state revenue each year into this legislature is like pouring slop on the heads of hogs who can’t stop feeding once they start.
    We have a control. Our Constitution grants the Governor line item veto power to control legislative spending. Yet our Governor, despite being warned by fiscal realists, has approved two recent all time high state budgets that far exceeded our income and now he would have you believe that he understands what he has done by demonstrating his sacrifice of this pay raise. Apparently to Governor Parnell a line item veto in a budget is only intended for poltical retribution. Please spare us your hypocrisy Governor and take the money.

  9. Indeprendent Voter 37

    I am so sick of all the partisan bickering. The State Compensation Commission is a relatively sane way of determining pay scales. Rep Gara practices the most blatant hypocrisy. He’s all pay the state workers but screw the political appointees. Disappointing behavior. The extremes of both parties turn my stomach. In many ways Lora Rineboldt and Les Gara are the same types o of extremists just from different ends of the spectrum.

  10. Katmai fan

    The Cadillac insurance will be no longer come 2018 since the state will likely not want to pay $4000 in taxes per employee. Good luck in the recruitment effort!

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