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With one week to go, Parnell weighs in on the issues

Governor says retirement funding, mega-projects needed to secure future

Posted: April 12, 2014 - 11:10pm
Republican Gov. Sean Parnell weighs in on key legislation being considered in the final week of session during an interview in his office at the state capital on Friday.  KLAS STOLPE | JUNEAU EMPIRE
Republican Gov. Sean Parnell weighs in on key legislation being considered in the final week of session during an interview in his office at the state capital on Friday.

The state is facing projections for revenue shortfalls throughout the next decade, but Republican Gov. Sean Parnell is looking beyond the shortfalls and the next four years should he win another term.

Two issues poised to share some of the strongest scrutiny and most passionate debate during the final seven days of the 2014 Legislature are Parnell-backed priorities that focus on issues decades away.

The first is finding a fix for an $11.9 billion unfunded liability in the Public Employees’ and Teachers’ Retirement Systems, and the second is developing a plan to proceed with the proposed gasline project.

In an interview with the Juneau Empire Friday, Parnell explained his reasoning for introducing HB385, a bill containing his proposal to fix the teachers’ and state workers’ retirement systems.

Put simply, waiting isn’t an option.

“It is our obligation is to pay this debt and not put if off for future generations,” Parnell said. The only way for us to do that responsibly is for us to bite the bullet and not leave it for our great-great-grandkids.”

His proposal of a $3 billion infusion now paired with $500 million in annual payments for the next 20 years was announced in December but there have been no hearings directly on the plan.

Instead, several legislators worked with Legislative Finance Director David Teal to draft an alternative plan of lower annual payments that extend well beyond 20 years.

That proposal was defeated by a 37-3 vote in the House. Shortly after the plan was defeated, Senators as well as Teal said it was an option to put off developing a plan until next year. Parnell disagrees.

“We can do better than that,” he said. “The opportunity’s there to do something about the unfunded pension liability, and I really think we can.”

Funding big projects

Since Parnell dubbed this the “Education Session,” supporters of large increases to education funding and the base student allocation (a factor in the per-pupil state education funding formula) have pointed to a number of state megaprojects as wasteful ventures.

The capital budget currently before lawmakers includes tens of millions of dollars in mega-project proposals like the Juneau Access Project, Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority and Ambler Mining District Access Project.

That doesn’t include approximately $70 million in expected costs should legislators opt to move forward with the proposed Alaska liquefied natural gas project as is expected.

“Spending tens of millions of dollars to advance those projects to the next phase where we actually have real design work done and better cost estimates of the project ... I think that’s a worthy investment,” Parnell said.

“Until one project is really set to go to construction and we have to sink a lot of state money into it, we have to advance multiple projects in Alaskans interests,” he added.

The Juneau Access Project has a unique component in that it not only works toward Parnell’s ambition of building new infrastructure for future Alaskans, but it also would reduce the cost of ferry service in the Lynn Canal, he said.

“Anytime we can open up access for Alaskans to get from community to community, I think that’s a good thing,” Parnell said.

Raise the wage

Lawmakers have been divided in recent weeks by conflicting opinions on raising the state minimum wage by $2 over the next two years, then having it adjust for inflation every year after.

On one end of the spectrum, backers of HB384, which matches language proposed by a ballot initiative currently scheduled for this fall, say the Legislature should carry out the will of the people. Recent polling indicates as much as 70 percent of Alaska supports raising the wage.

Still, others, including the initiative’s backers, say legislators ought to do nothing and let the voters decide.

Their fear stems from 2002 and 2003 when lawmakers voted to raise the wage one year — and keep a similar initiative off that ballot — only to strip several components of the bill the following year.

“That concern is there whether it’s an initiative or whether it’s legislation,” said Parnell, a supporter of raising the wage. “It’s the difference between one year and two years.”

If the Legislature adjourns on time next Sunday and the minimum wage bill does not pass, the initiative will be on the August ballot along with the repeal effort against the SB21 oil tax plan — a hallmark of Parnell and the 2013 Legislature.

“If the (minimum wage ) bill is a good idea for an initiative then the bill’s a good idea for legislation,” Parnell said. “If people are opposed to running virtually the same bill as legislation, then there must be a political motivation involved related to elections and driving turnout.”

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at Follow him on Twitter at

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Karl Ashenbrenner
Karl Ashenbrenner 04/13/14 - 07:52 am
NO Governor

there is a fear that the Legislature will gut the bill the very next year. Remember the old adage "fool me once...."? Our legislature has the nasty habit of superseding the will of the people with "substantially" similar bills all the while having the hidden intent to undo that work next session. That Gov. Parnell is the problem.

Tom Leston
Tom Leston 04/13/14 - 09:01 am
egomaniac is a person

Egomaniac is a person obsessed with their own (supposed) importance and unable to hear or see things as they really are, they don’t understand the world or what is important to other people.
Because egomaniacs are obsessed they are likely to do such things as, spend multimillions on a road that the public doesn't even want or need.

Parnell "REFUSED" to expand Medicaid to cover the poorest of Alaskans, but he is ok with spending multimillions to expand a road to a ferry terminal that we don't want or need, because it will save the state money on - ferry fuel?

Just think what expanding Medicaid to cover kids will save.

Egomaniacs are so obsessed that they WILL expand a road and not healthcare. This is why egomaniacs never make good public servants.

Samuel Joplin
Samuel Joplin 04/13/14 - 10:09 am
Juneau Road

I have lived in Juneau for over 40 years. This town needs better access! Back in the seventies, the overwhelming majority wanted a road. Now we have so many imports with anti-development mindsets that it is about an even split between proponents and opponents. If you're opposed to a road, I challenge you to practice what you preach and not use the road north of Eagle Beach. The truth is on most days the same people opposing the road go out to the Pt Bridget Trail or Echo Cove all the time. Hypocrites!
Thanks to Gov Parnell for working to expand access to Juneau!

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