Don't make public service like the private sector

Letter to the editor

Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Labeling the PERS issue a "crisis" encourages legislators to make sweeping changes that may hurt Alaska's economy.

During the late 1980s, I worked on a university project to establish a NASA-funded data center in Fairbanks. This project grew from a half dozen to a hundred staff members in five years. While filling most jobs in state, the project required software engineering expertise which was in short supply. Given the constraints on the university's salary structure, we couldn't offer salaries sufficient to bring these folks to Fairbanks. The retirement package played a key role in convincing people to come here, even at lower pay than they could command Outside. The project was successful, and went on to capture some of the system development projects as well, which were initially awarded to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. When I left the university in the late 1990s, NASA funding had increased to about $10 million a year.

I don't doubt adjustments to PERS are needed, however we must take into account the relationship between the retirement system and other aspects of public sector business (such as salary limitations) that influence our ability to recruit and retain good people. The rush to make this aspect of public service more like the private sector could have a damaging effect on Alaska's economy. Let's keep the public sector a viable component of our economy.

Tom George


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