Remember this administration and SB-141 come voting time

Posted: Monday, February 27, 2006

We have been fortunate here in Juneau to have some high quality people representing us in the state Legislature.

The people in this community ask for and expect our representatives to listen and work to meet our needs. Outstanding examples are Sen. Elton, Rep. Weyhrauch and Rep. Kerttula. Although of different political parties, each works to honestly meet the needs of their constituents not only in Juneau but of all the people in Alaska. How unfortunate that this administration and many of the senators and representatives of other areas of the state are so lacking in the qualities exemplified in Elton, Weyhrauch and Kerttula.

An excellent example was SB-141, pushed through by the administration in the last Legislature. We were told by the administration that a fiscal disaster was facing us, and something had to be done immediately to forestall a horrible fiscal calamity. Enormous pressure came down on every senator and representative to push this piece of legislation through immediately. No time to think about it, check to see if the figures were correct or consider the other options - just vote it in. And, along with a special session that cost the state untold millions, it was done. Crisis averted, or so it would seem.

We were told that the state retirement system was $6 billion short. When you talk in those kinds of dollars it definitely is a scary thing. After the dust settled and the vote was in, we found out that the administration's contracted analysts used an outdated mortality table to calculate future funds needed for the retirement system, underestimating the average retiree's life span by several years. On top of that, state administrators over the last 15 years had shorted the retirement system by allowing employers to pay little or nothing into the system. Finally, there was a serious decline in stock-market values over a couple of years that lowered the value of retirement investments and income. If the state had not allowed the employers to slip by without paying their fair share, the other problem wouldn't have been a problem. And as far as the analyst's mistake was concerned, that only made the amount the retirement system was supposedly short seem worse than it was. How short are we? Well, that's being looked into.

Was it a crisis? Absolutely not. We had a retirement system that was considered to be one of the best financed in the United States. It still is for Tiers 1 through 3, but if the Tier 4 addiction is added, it soon won't be, and the 401(k) part of the retirement system is considered one of the worst. Tier 4 is a 401(k) system, and the average American just doesn't have the time or ability to watch over and invest a personal retirement system over 25 to 30 years. Not only that, 401(k)s are open to fraud, and if money is lost, the retiree has to eat it. The nice thing for politicians who push this approach is, by the time the retiree finds his retirement nest egg does not meet his needs, the politician will be long gone. Nice deal. No one left to blame. Of course, the retiree doesn't get to retire, or if he does, chances are he'll have to go on public assistance to survive.

So, when the next election comes around, remember this administration and the bill of goods it sold you.

• Jack Marshall is a Juneau resident and the director of communication for the Executive Board of Retired Public Employees of Alaska.



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