State Senate committee OKs pension reform bill

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2008

A state Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill to reopen the defined benefit pension plan for state and local government employees and teachers.

Two years ago the Alaska Legislature, facing soaring costs of future benefits, switched to a new 401(k)-style plan for those hired after July 1, 2006.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said those changes to the state's retirement system, while making some necessary improvements, "went too far."

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, has introduced Senate Bill 183 to return to a defined benefit plan, instead of the defined contribution plan modeled after the 401(k) plans used in some private companies.

McGuire voted for the bill, which passed 3-2. One of those opposing the bill was Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, who also serves as Senate president.

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, voted to move the bill along to its next committee. He said he simply wanted to continue the discussion at the next committee.

There may not be time left in the session for Senate Bill 183 to be approved by the Senate and then the House, he said.

"I don't know that this bill is going to make it through this session."

Elton's bill's next step is the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage. He joined McGuire and Stevens in supporting the bill, and said he did so on its merits.

"I think it's a good idea," he said.

Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, joined Green in opposing the bill, saying the public was frustrated with supporting better retirements than most citizens have.

He argued that the bill could put a "strong drain on the public treasury."

He warned that courts will not let the state cut benefits, once they've been promised.

"We'd have to cash out the corpus of the (Alaska) Permanent Fund before we could ever cut retirements," Bunde said.



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