As soon as the news hit that Americans for Prosperity Alaska State Director Bernadette Wilson had been let go from the nationally recognized grassroots group, the defined benefits expansion legislation, SB 88, which had been frozen in Senate Labor and Commerce, was moved from committee. It took less than one business day.
Wilson and her tribe of conservative volunteers across the state had made stopping that bill one of the centerpieces of their legislative efforts this year.
Wilson had just completed a print job with door hangers ready for volunteers to hit the neighborhoods and keep the pressure on. Last month she brought over 30 volunteers to the Capitol to press lawmakers to kill that legislation and to talk about other conservative priorities.
On the other side, unions like the AFL-CIO have been fighting to restore the costly defined benefits. SB 88 has 11 cosponsors in the Senate, but Wilson and her AFP volunteers were a force to contend with.
Friday that changed. No one knows why suddenly Americans for Prosperity decided to “part ways” with Wilson. Someone got to the group’s leadership, insiders said.
SB 88 now goes to the Senate Finance Committee, the last stop before being scheduled for a Senate floor vote. It appears to have the votes to pass from the Senate.
While it’s unlikely to pass both bodies this year, since the drop-dead date for the Legislature is May 17, the conservative firebrand who was fighting SB 88 is no longer a thorn in the side of the Legislature.
Proponents of the bill say it will help with recruitment and retention of state employees and teachers, but opponents say that all sectors of the economy are struggling to find workers, and there are endless ways to continue to up the ante, which would drive inflation and the cost of government.
Alaska’s previous defined benefit retirement system was abolished in 2006 and replaced with a defined contribution plan. But the state still has over $1 billion in owed payments on that defined benefits plan, 17 years after it was replaced.
Senate Bill 88 would restore a defined benefit plan for some new workers and allow existing employees to choose between the new defined benefit and the defined contribution plan.