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Gov. reiterates call for action on pension issue

Posted: March 22, 2014 - 11:03pm
Gov. Sean Parnell addresses reporters during a news conference on Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)  Becky Bohrer
Becky Bohrer
Gov. Sean Parnell addresses reporters during a news conference on Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell on Friday reiterated his call for lawmakers to put $3 billion from savings toward paying down the state’s unfunded pension liability, saying it’s the best thing they could do to help ease pressure on Alaska’s budget.

With about a month left before the scheduled end of session, lawmakers have not yet decided how best to address the issue.

Last week, Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, a co-chair of the House Finance Committee, said “everything” was on the table in discussions with his fellow majority members, including possible contribution increases by municipalities, extending the timeline for payments and Parnell’s proposal.

Sen. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, and vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said Friday that senators were still running numbers and analyzing the potential effects of different options. Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage and Senate Finance co-chair, said he thought senators were pretty close to the governor but it was a matter of working out all the details.

The response to Parnell’s plan has been mixed. While some lawmakers support that kind of cash infusion to help lower annual payments — including members of the Senate Democratic minority, who pitched a similar idea two years ago — others are wary of taking so much from savings given the current budget environment.

Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, falls in the latter category. Neuman, who chairs a House Finance subcommittee overseeing the state health department budget, knows future budget cuts won’t get any easier. But he said he hasn’t seen anything yet to convince him to move from the current payment plan the state is on for the pension obligation.

That plan calls for a schedule of rising payments over the next 15 years, on pace to top $1 billion a year before dropping. Under the current schedule, the payment for this year was about $630 million and is estimated to be about $700 million next fiscal year, according to Parnell’s budget office.

Parnell has said a $3-billion transfer from the state constitutional budget reserve fund, divided between the public employees’ and teachers’ retirement systems, would lower annual payments to $500 million. A draw from that reserve fund requires a three-fourths vote of the members of both the House and Senate.

In an interview Friday, he said the best thing lawmakers could do would be to join him in putting Alaska on a more secure foundation, which he believes his plan would accomplish. He said it would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year if lawmakers agreed to his plan or made minimal changes to it. A $1.5-billion infusion, for example, would not have the same impact when it comes to easing budget pressures as $3 billion would, he said.

While Parnell said he’s keeping an open mind to ideas, he said he didn’t think it was necessary to shift more liability over to municipalities at this time, citing concerns with the impact on local budgets.

Parnell also recently appointed a group to recommend changes to Alaska’s Medicaid program, which is another major budget driver. A report from that group is due later this year.

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Steven Rosales
Steven Rosales 03/23/14 - 07:38 am
Those really are

astonishing numbers. I think there should be no such thing as public pensions. Pensions are great for those who recidve them but overall kill states. Why should a water treatment guy or a city clerk make 100,00's of thousands of retirement when lets say a truck driver or electrician have nothing unless he pays for his which he really cant afford to do? Liberals love equality put sure love their public funded pensions !

James Coleman
James Coleman 03/23/14 - 02:53 pm
Huge problem

Unfunded pension liabilities will be the buzz words in the next decade or so. The media does not report much on this ticking time bomb. States like Illinois, Michigan, to name a few, UPLs in the mega billions. Who will pay? Not sure. Yes, liberals do love these programs but will do nothing to help pay down the mess. They stymie increased energy production, oil/gas production for export, pipelines to move it, overregulated industries that can't function, the list goes on.

. Shannara
. Shannara 03/24/14 - 06:50 am
Steve:I would love to see


I would love to see where you pulled those numbers out of.

Keep on spreading the FUD.

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