State workers fight loss of airline mileage

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2001

Opponents of a bill to take frequent flyer miles from state employees attacked the measure at a legislative hearing today, saying it would cost too much to enforce and put a burden on workers.

The bill would require state employees to use frequent flyer miles earned on state travel for subsequent business trips. Workers would not be allowed to redeem the miles for personal use as they do now.

Rep. Andrew Halcro introduced the bill saying the extra miles belong to the state and should be used to reduce the cost of state travel, currently about $16 million a year. He estimates the state would save $500,000 to $2 million annually if it claimed frequent flyer miles.

"I think it's fair to assume frequent flyer miles procured on state business after the state pays for the ticket is a legitimate state asset," said the Anchorage Republican.

But a handful of union representatives and state managers told the House State Affairs Committee this morning the bill has problems. For one thing, the state would not be allowed to pool the miles, said Kim Garnero, director of finance for the Department of Administration. That means an individual traveler would have to make 18 round trips between Juneau and Anchorage to redeem 20,000 miles for a free ticket for state travel, she said.

"Only a small percentage of state employees would ever qualify for free travel," said Garnero.

Also, the state would have to keep track of the miles, substantially increasing the need for administrative oversight and enforcement, Garnero said.

Halcro said he was shocked by a "puffed up" state fiscal note estimating the measure would cost roughly $200,000 annually to administer. He argued the plan would require no additional accounting or supervision by the state because the miles would stay on travelers' personal mileage accounts. It would be up to employees, not the state, to keep track of them, Halcro said.

"It's going to cost the state an average of $200,000 a year to do nothing," said Halcro, referring to the fiscal note. "Only the government could get away with that kind of fiscal note."

Union representative Kathy Dietrich estimated it would take some employees 20 years to accrue enough miles for one ticket and that the bill asks too much of those workers.

"It's a burden to expect an employee to track that mileage for 20 years in order to redeem one ticket for the state," said Dietrich, business agent for the Alaska Public Employees Association.

Union representative Bruce Ludwig said the state already is having trouble attracting biologists, computer programmers, engineers and other specialists because it doesn't pay them enough and that Halcro's plan would create one more obstacle.

"There are more efficient ways of saving the state money than reducing further the compensation package for state employees," said Ludwig, APEA business manager.

Halcro made a final pitch saying California, Oregon and the federal government already have similar policies. He also said the current system unfairly favors employees who travel over those who don't by providing an extra benefit. The bill did not pass out of committee, although the chairman said he plans to hold more hearings this session.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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