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Bill Hikes Pay for Handful of Aides

District staffers for Hawaii and Alaska Senators could potentially see more green in their paychecks, thanks to language included in the fiscal 2004 legislative branch spending bill.

The provision would amend the U.S. Code to allow Senators in “noncontiguous” states to “pay a high cost of living allowance” — up to 25 percent of an employee’s base salary — to staff living in the lawmakers’ states.

A Senate aide familiar with the legislation said the language was added to the bill “to bring the Senate staff up to pay parity with the executive and judicial employees who work in Hawaii and Alaska.”

Employees in executive branch agencies are eligible for a similar program, known as a “non-foreign area cost of living allowance,” which provides up to an additional 25 percent of base pay.

“Costs in Alaska are much higher because of the need to fly and ship goods into the state,” said Melanie Alvord, a spokeswoman for Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who worked to secure the program. “This provision allows for Senate employees in Alaska and Hawaii to be treated equally to their counterparts in the executive and judicial branches.”

If Senators choose to implement the program, as many as 16 staffers in Alaska and 21 in Hawaii would be eligible.

The new rule also exempts the additional pay from the total amount each Senator is allowed to spend on staff salaries each year. However, the payment must still come from a Senator’s official personnel and office expense account.

In fiscal 2004, those figures, which include funds for mail distribution, total $2,389,170 for Alaska and $2,416,244 for Hawaii.

Of those amounts, Alaska may spend up to $1,685,301 on administrative and clerical staff and up to $450,477 on legislative staff. Hawaii is allowed $1,685,301 and $450,477, respectively.

The House did not provide for a similar program in its portion of the legislative branch appropriations bill, although the chamber could potentially attach a provision to any of the 10 appropriations bills which have not yet gone to conference.

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