Senior citizens group plans appeal for dismissed longevity bonus lawsuit

Posted: Friday, December 24, 2004

FAIRBANKS - A group of senior citizens is planning to appeal a decision by a Fairbanks judge who dismissed their lawsuit seeking a return of the state Longevity Bonus program.

The plaintiffs said they'll take their case to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Superior Court Judge Charles Pengilly rejected the seniors' arguments challenging Gov. Frank Murkowski's veto of the program that paid eligible residents as much as $250 a month.

Attorney and former state Sen. Joe Josephson argued in the lawsuit, filed on behalf of one retired Anchorage attorney and seven Fairbanks seniors, that state law still contains the bonus program. Josephson said former Gov. Walter Hickel and the Legislature made a pledge to residents in 1993 when they created a phase-out program that allowed recipients to continue collecting checks.

In his September decision, Pengilly agreed the program remains in state law, but said nothing about the phase-out program qualified as a promise or entitlement under the relevant legal standards.

Murkowski's decision to veto an appropriation the Legislature made to fund the program in the fiscal year 2004 budget was part of the normal legislative process, the judge said.

Pengilly's ruling came on a defense motion for summary judgment filed by Keith Levy, an assistant attorney general who represented Murkowski and other named defendants, including former Department of Administration Commissioner Mike Miller and the state of Alaska.

Josephson has filed an intent to appeal Pengilly's decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.

While the plaintiffs continue their case in court, an effort to reinstate the Longevity Bonus could resurface in the Legislature this session, especially with the state enjoying a budget windfall from a surge in oil prices, said Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks.

Guttenberg introduced a bill to reinstate the program last session, but the measure didn't make it far.

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