Corrupt process makes for bad government

The Alaska State Capitol on April 22, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney)

We appreciate the arduous task legislators are charged with to assemble a balanced budget in order for Alaskans to live, play, work and study in this great state. 

However, the Alaska Public Interest Research Group (AKPIRG) objects to the 67% legislators’ salary increase on the basis of the corrupt process by which these salary increase decisions have been handled.  

First, the State Officers Compensation Commission (SOCC). They submitted a report on Jan. 24, 2023, which recommended salary increases for the governor, lieutenant governor and executive department heads. The commission specifically did not recommend salary increases for legislators in a statement:

“No recommendations are being submitted for the legislator as the commission believes further discussion is necessary.”   

The Legislature unanimously rejected the SOCC’s recommendation.

On March 14, 2023, the governor removed and replaced  all members of the State Officers Compensation Commission. The SOCC held a “public” meeting the next day, March 15, for which the public was given less than two days’ notice and no agenda or attachments. The five new commission members met in a short 15-minute meeting.  They waived the 20-day public notice requirement, provided a couple of anecdotal statements about the cost of living in Juneau, and voted to amend the report to include the 67% legislative pay raises without any explanation or supporting documents for this significant expense whatsoever.

There was a clear lack of public notice, and a bad process. The commission only posted it on the online public notice webpage on the afternoon of March 13, less than 48 hours before the meeting. The vast majority of the public only found out about the meeting after it took place.

The Open Meetings Act protects the public’s right to know and requires that the public be provided prior knowledge of all steps occurring in the decision-making process, with limited exception, and must also have access to materials and documents being considered at meetings.  The SOCC failed at every step to meet these requirements, with the help of the governor.

This disregard for public meeting protocols is not confined to the SOCC. This degradation of our public process has occurred with other boards and commissions. The Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development recently took action on an item that did not meet the requirements of the OMA related to public notice and review of meeting material. The Alaska State Commission for Human Rights is reported to have ignored the OMA completely when it recently changed its policies to remove protections of discrimination of LGBTQ Alaskans at the behest of Attorney General Treg Taylor without any public notice or input.

Additionally, the Alaska Legislature has created roadblocks to public participation, from confusing and last-minute time changes, to severely limiting the opportunity to give public comment at all. This has been an issue with legislative salary increases. 

For example, on March 27, House Bill 135, a bill rejecting the recommendations of the SOCC, was read for the first time during the House floor session and referred to the state affairs committee, which heard the bill the very next day, on March 28. During the meeting, the chair suddenly opened HB 135 for public comment, although there was absolutely no public notice for any public testimony posted on the House State Affairs Committee meeting website.

Ironically, AKPIRG was hoping to testify on the very issue that made it impossible to testify: lack of public notice and therefore no reasonable time to prepare. The committee passed HB 135 out of committee. AKPIRG appealed to the committee, with no results, to have HB 135 heard again so we and others could be given a chance to speak our minds about this grossly mishandled issue. HB 135 has been parked in the House Rules Committee since April 3.

There are certainly many cases in which salary increases are justifiable and in the public interest, but so far there has been an active attempt, at every turn, to eliminate meaningful and good-faith discussion about the merits of legislative salary raises. There has been little factual evidence produced, and dissent has been swiftly silenced, as in the case of the SOCC members’ removal.

Legislators are meant to represent their constituents’ interests, not their own. Laws are in place to be followed, not cherry-picked. The Legislature should not approve 67% legislator salary increases through the budget approvals process, and instead should demand a fair and open process to restore public trust and make a legitimate case for any raises.

Veri di Suvero is the executive director of AKPIRG. Andrée McLeod is AKPIRG’s good government expert.


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Veri di Suvero
Veri di Suvero

Veri di Suvero, who uses the pronoun they, has been serving as the executive director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group since September 2018. Their background is in various advocacy areas, most recently Alaska Native language revitalization and maintenance. Currently, di Suvero serves on the board of the Consumer Federation of America and is the consumer advocacy representative on the Railbelt Reliability Council’s Implementation Committee. In addition, they are one of the founders of the Alaskan Artists for a Just Transition. Di Suvero currently lives on Dena’ina lands in Anchorage.

Andrée McLeod
Andrée McLeod

Andrée McLeod was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and immigrated with her family to Long Island, New York. Alaska has been her home since 1978. She’s worked in the public and private sectors in various positions. Her work experience includes time spent as an electronics technician, waitress, substitute teacher, cannery worker, legislative aide and groundskeeper, among other jobs. McLeod has earned degrees in electronics technology and economics – which is why she has a penchant to troubleshoot things as AKPIRG’s good government director. She identifies her hobbies as including Scrabble, jigsaw puzzles and "making good trouble through citizen engagement." McLeod lives on Dena’ina lands in Anchorage.