My Turn: Business as usual?

Posted: Friday, October 19, 2007

In 2000 I retired from state employment. One of the motivations for my retirement at that time was that, as a retiree, my retirement income would be inflation-adjusted on an annual basis while my working income had steadily lost purchasing power. It was a no-brainer.

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Conditions have only become worse, and according to Annette Kreitzer, state commissioner of Administration, conditions are not about to improve. We will lose one-third of our professional staff in the next five years due to retirement, and already the state is finding it difficult to fill vacant positions (according to the Juneau Empire on Oct. 5). In fact, with the implementation of the latest retirement system in July 2006, things have become much worse. One of the advantages of public employment used to be the defined benefits offered by the retirement system: The longer you worked and the more you made, the better your retirement benefits. Now state employee retirement is based on investment of retirement funds in various securities.

One of the basic precepts of investment is that you don't gamble with money you can't afford to lose. Yet the State Street Bond Fund, a presumably secure retirement investment for state employees, recently lost almost $6 million (according to the Empire on Oct. 10).

In 2006, through the corruption of the legislative process by the oil industry, the state went from a gross profits tax on the industry to a net profits tax. As the editorial in the Oct. 14 Empire said, under this system the state must "commit to maintaining highly skilled auditors who have the expertise and resources to thoroughly review oil company numbers." The question is, how is the state to get these auditors when it will be competing with the wages paid by these same oil companies? At issue is millions of dollars, and the oil companies will not hesitate to spend what is necessary to get the accountants who can outfox the poorly compensated state auditors.

This is not an issue affecting only oil company taxes. Is the Basin Road Trestle safe? How about the Brotherhood and Douglas bridges and the new overpass being constructed on Egan Drive? We are depending on poorly compensated Department of Transportation engineers to have the expertise to secure our safety on a daily basis. Does anyone care about the spread of communicable diseases? That depends on our Public Health employees. State Troopers? Ditto. Clean water and air, ferries, education, prisons, Pioneer Homes and many other resources and services we take for granted depend on a labor force that is qualified, committed for the long term, and dedicated to public service. We will find and keep these employees only as long as they feel valued and rewarded. Staying on our present course will result in losing these employees either to the private sector or to other states. Why live here when you can make more money in a state with a lower cost of living?

If Gov. Palin is to convince us that she is committed to changing "business as usual", she must stop the loss of competent and dedicated state employees and commit to fair compensation to protect the Alaskan public. Anything less is a derogation of the public's trust and safety, and "business as usual."

• Judy Crondahl is a retired state employee and Juneau resident.

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