Grassroots activists have been burning up the phones of state senators who in Juneau, telling them to stop HB 55, the bill that would add back billions of dollars in ongoing operational costs for the State of Alaska to pay for lavish benefits for some state workers.
Most of the phone calls are going to answering machines, because this is “Legislative Skits” weekend in Juneau and lawmakers are busy preparing for the festivities that entertained them last night and will entertain them some more tonight.
State Sen. Josh Revak pulled a maneuver last week to bounce HB 55 from a committee chaired by Sen. Mia Costello, who was not allowing the bill to advance because its fiscal costs are so high. Revak joined Democrats to file a letter to force the bill into the Finance Committee, where many think it will quickly advance to the floor of the Senate. The bill sponsors in the Senate are Democrats Tom Begich, Elvi Gray-Jackson, and Bill Wielechowski.
Americans For Prosperity volunteers began calling on Friday and another crew began calling midday Saturday, hoping to reach every senator and the Office of the Governor to stop the bill. They have made over 600 calls in 24 hours, Americans for Prosperity said.
“The audacity of legislators telling Alaskans we are on a fiscal cliff so dire we cannot pay a full PFD, but now we’re going to pass a defined benefits bill that we don’t know how much it costs or how our children and grandchildren will pay for it? It’s going to cost billions of dollars and lead to new taxes,” said Bernadette Wilson, Alaska state director for Americans For Prosperity.
Wilson cited a bill offered by Rep. Adam Wool last year that would put an income tax on Alaskans; Wool said it would bring in $600 million a year. Last May, Democrats said an income tax would be needed before Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s full Permanent Fund dividend plan could advance. And another bill advanced by Democrats last year would implement a 2% sales to address the “fiscal cliff.”
On Friday, gubernatorial hopeful Bill Walker, who is favored by Democrats and state workers, posted support for HB 55. “Fantastic to finally see movement on the important issue of public employee retirement benefits. Fixing our broken public employee retirement systems means more people will stay in Alaska and build their lives here,” the Walker-Drygas campaign said, distorting the truth. Then it told another fib: “Alaska is one of the only states in the nation that lacks a defined benefit retirement system, and we hemorrhage valuable state workers every year as a result.”
In fact, the Social Security Administration says the traditional pensions are fading fast across America:
“The percentage of workers covered by a traditional defined benefit (DB) pension plan that pays a lifetime annuity, often based on years of service and final salary, has been steadily declining over the past 25 years. From 1980 through 2008, the proportion of private wage and salary workers participating in DB pension plans fell from 38 percent to 20 percent (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008; Department of Labor 2002). In contrast, the percentage of workers covered by a defined contribution (DC) pension plan—that is, an investment account established and often subsidized by employers, but owned and controlled by employees—has been increasing over time. From 1980 through 2008, the proportion of private wage and salary workers participating in only DC pension plans increased from 8 percent to 31 percent (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2008; Department of Labor 2002). More recently, many employers have frozen their DB plans (Government Accountability Office 2008; Munnell and others 2006). Some experts expect that most private-sector plans will be frozen in the next few years and eventually terminated. … Under the typical DB plan freeze, current participants will receive retirement benefits based on their accruals up to the date of the freeze, but will not accumulate any additional benefits; new employees will not be covered. Instead, employers will either establish new DC plans or increase contributions to existing DC plans.”
Must Read Alaska learned Friday that Sen. Revak, who is hoping to be Alaska’s next congressional representative, was told by the firefighters union that his support for the pension bill was the difference for him in advancing from the open primary to the general election. Only four candidates will move ahead from the June 11 special election primary to the Aug. 16 general election, when voters will decide who fills out the remaining months of the late Congressman Don Young’s term. Revak is a long-shot for the position, making his move to the left an important play for union financial support, since his campaign has virtually no money to work with.
Bernadette Wilson, of Americans For Prosperity, said defined benefits are not the problem.
“Sen. [Mia] Costello is who we are really offering our support to,” Wilson said of the Anchorage senator who tried to block the bill from moving forward. “We’re putting enough pressure on legislators — maybe those couple of Republicans who thought they might support it, they need to know they’ll be stepping on a hornet’s nest if they do, and it’s not going to be pretty. And if HB 55 lands on the governor’s desk, we want him to veto it.”