JUNEAU - Gov. Frank Murkowski has rejected senior citizen groups' offer of a five-year phase-out of the longevity bonus program.
The administration has proposed instead a shorter phase-out that calls for seniors to receive the checks just one more year. And those checks would be only half as much as they received this year.
The Senate last week approved a five-year phase-out of the program, which provides eligible senior citizens with payments of up to $250 a month.
But House Finance Co-Chairman Bill Williams, R-Saxman, held off adopting that proposal Saturday in the House Finance Committee.
Williams said the governor's office has said a five-year phase-out is unacceptable.
The administration has proposed instead cutting the bonus payments by 50 percent in the fiscal year that starts in July, then ending them entirely the next fiscal year, said John Manly, a spokesman for Murkowski.
Marie Darlin, a volunteer lobbyist for AARP in Juneau, objected to ending the program that quickly.
"Essentially, that's only one year," Darlin said. "I think that would be a little hard for us to agree to."
"It's better than zero," Williams countered. "The governor may zero it out."
Murkowski in March proposed eliminating the longevity bonus program altogether in the 2004 fiscal year, which starts in July. That would have saved about $44 million, state officials estimate.
An alternative proposal by Senate President Gene Therriault's office would have allowed the bonuses only for low-income seniors.
Currently there is no limit on the amount of income an older Alaskan can have and still receive the monthly payments, which range up to $250 depending on when people turned 65. Several years ago, the state began phasing out the payments, but grandfathered in seniors living in Alaska who turned 65 by the end of 1996.
The needs-based proposal would have cut off the payments to single seniors making more than $16,824 a year, or couples making more than $22,716. Alaska Permanent Fund dividends and some other sources of income would not have been counted.
Murkowski said he would accept that proposal. But Darlin said many seniors perceived it as welfare and they objected that the income levels were too low.
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