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Sudden moves: Defined benefits bill voted from committee as soon as Bernadette Wilson is out of the way

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.

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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.

Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.


  1. Big govt benefits like a defined benefit = wasteful spending! The budget of Alaska is like adding 100 pounds to a already obese person. Whereas individuals do not always have the resources necessary to change themselves THE ALASKA CORPORATION does not know how to stop themselves from another helping of excessive blobs of big spending. Art Chance stated that since the time of Gov Hammond in office the Democrats have run the spending up. They have an expressway of balloon payments in the form of defined benefits. Do the math. Don’t be ignorant.

    • I agree but might add that since at least 2012, many republicans have also run the debt up. For the most part, Republicans & Democrats are but two different sides of the same coin designed to give us the illusion of choice.

    • Spot on, and also agree with AK76 as it is both parties. And it has bee my understanding that government positions should be in parity with the private sector but they so beyond that now – at least at state level. High paying jobs, top of the ladder benefits, no risk at all, and almost impossible to get fired. How is that even remotely in parity?

      • Yep ….. worked at the MOA my last 6 years & it was exactly this … high pay …incredible bennies (IBEW lineman contract) and never fired, whether you work or not.
        The only way to lose your job was if you committed a felony, have an on-job accident w/ a follow up bad urine test or drinking at work. Some worked hard, some a little, some not at all, it was your choice. managers were discouraged from building a case to let someone go as it usually didn’t work …… too many iron clad ‘grievance procedures’ backed up by IBEW lawyers (Wielechowski).

        • Being a man with 8 years in state service, “Exceptional” ratings as a supervisor and high productivity, the drafting of hiring female applicants with an axe to grind became my downfall. When their feet were held to the fire to get them to show up and accomplish minimum tasks, they banded together and created false statements of bullying and harassment and the union would not make an effort to provide a defense. I was shown the door in a resignation in lieu of scenario. All male supervisors in the office were eventually replaced and resigned or let go.

      • There are many government jobs with nothing “on par” with the private sector. Law enforcement, social work, corrections, firefighters, etc.

        What isn’t mentioned is that for some government positions there is also fierce cross-states rivalry for certain labor.

        Law enforcement, for one, attracts more talent with better retirement plans than with just higher wages.

        Just look at AST wages since the demise of Tier 3…nothing but higher and higher and AST still struggles to recruit talent.

        Notwithstanding law enforcement (who, btw, traditionally have a very poor history of living into a long retirement) you still wind up paying alot more up front if you don’t offer a pension.

        I don’t know where or how you ever received the idea that state employees are difficult to fire. They absolutely are not. Most of them are union, and are represented like any other union employee; that’s a union issue not state employment issue. If I complain about your job performance to your boss should you be summarily fired? Why not?

        That also goes to the manpower issue, sometimes it’s better to keep someone around who made a mistake than to be even more shorthanded in fields where you don’t have generous pools of quality applicants…ye olde “why fire him when I can maybe replace him with someone worse?”

      • I agree.
        Every other day is a paid no-work holiday for state employees in general.
        Unions have rendered the word work out of union sponsored state employees.
        Then they get all these free benefits to boot.

  2. Republicans have been routed in the legislature. They’ve given the high ground to the Democrats in both the house (majority control of the finance committee) and in the senate (majority control of the caucus), and are now publicly trying to sell Alaskans on taxes.

    Groups like AFP that are willing to provide the pressure needed to encourage Republicans to act like Republicans (e.g. hand out earplugs to blot out the Siren song of Juneau’s relentless push for greater spending) are our last line of defense because we all know Republican Party leadership in this state isn’t going to do it.

    • There needs to be an almost complete purge of politicians in this state. Just an awful crop. (You can stay David.)

    • When you refer to Juneau’s relentless push for greater spending, are you referring to how much it costs to leave the Capitol in Juneau or the pay raise legislators voted for?

    • Or maybe you should ask yourself “what is it they see or know that I don’t that causes them to vote like that?”

      You’ll never, ever, succeed in a social or political contest if you refuse to understand others’ vision.

      Just thinking someone’s a fool doesn’t make you any less of one.

  3. The federal government recognized in 1986 that its defined benefits program was unsustainable. So, it went to a 401K investment plan, added Social Security, and a very minimum retirement cost. The Department Of Defense also decided that a defined benefits plan was unsustainable and went to a reduced benefit and a 401K plan. Social Security was already mandated for military members. The State of Alaska sees the Permanent Fund corpus as its safety net to pay for the return of the Defined Benefits program for not just state employees but for school district personnel as well.

  4. Now she can run against Peltola in 2024. .Bernadette Wilson has The True Grit to wipe the Smile off the Grinning Granny.

  5. This is popular with politicians because of how government accounting works. they do not have to account/budget/sett aside for the cost until it is to be paid. private companies must account for now what the actuarial estimated cost is going to be ultimately and update that every year. So if they promise something in the future, there is no accountability now. unions push this as they can fund politicians campaigns and the blame is on those who inherit this madness.
    I know I am in the minority, but I believe unions should never be able to organize government workers since that is the fox in the hen house. and if they are able to organize, it would be illegal to make campaign contributions to those who make the decisions.

    • # 1 problem …. imo ….government unions.
      At all levels, Fed,State & Muni.
      The unionized “public service” is behind ALL this liberal cr*p.
      PS: I am a retired trade unionist collecting retirement from 3 (private) pension plans
      I am pro-union for the private sector.

      • Even FDR, America’s most effective socialist to date, opposed governmental unions.

        For exactly the reasons we see playing out.

        I believe unions still have a valid role to play in society, but not as they are doing so now.

        • Yes; then JFK ignored the wisdom of FDR & allowed Fed workers to unionize.
          The Kennedy “clan” really messed up this country.
          Started Vietnam (& all it’s social chaos) …. invented food stamps & gov pre school.
          Then Ted FLOODED the country w/ immigrants from So. of the border.
          These 2 groups … Hispanic voters & gov union voters completely promote the Left.

  6. Of course the faux conservative Senate Finance Co-Chair Bert Stedman will support the bill along with Juneau’s leading socialist Jesse Kiehl allowing it to move out of committee……

  7. Has anybody shown the proof that a “defined benefits” program will guarantee the recruitment and retention goals of our state? I believe the guarantee offered by such a program is an ever increasing debt load stretching towards the stars.

  8. Whom has infiltrated Americans for Prosperity? Now that they have fired one of their best representatives where are they and what ‘good’ are they accomplishing? Obviously the proverbial crickets and the gate is left open.

  9. as usual our problem is not democrats. it is republicans in the senate, house seems strong. that click and bert need to be censored like murkowski was . at least do something mike svenson

  10. Thanks Suzanne for the rest of the story. I hope all readers are appreciative of your efforts to present all information regarding the “weather” in Juneau.

  11. My personal observations after 40 years in Alaska is more than 50% of retirees leave Alaska no matter how generous their retirement package is. If Alaska offers great wages, the best workers will come and invest their 401-k benefits wisely.

    • Alaska is not a good place to get old. It is easy to get hurt. Geriatric medicine generally sucks. Even if you have PERS, once you turn 65 you are on Medicare and almost no GPs take it, so you have to pay cash and use your GP like a concierge to make referrals to specialists who take Medicare. I was going through some serious medical issues and finally just threw up my hands and went to the University of Arizona and then the Mayo Clinic; other than airfare and hotel costs, it was cheaper there and the care much more confidence inspiring.

      As to those leaving, most will because it is just too hard to live here physically as you get older.

      • I’ve been getting my major healthcare down south for years.

        Faster, better, cheaper.

        I had a conversation once with a healthcare provider in Juneau who told me he will retire out of state for the same reasons you mentioned.

      • You are correct, Art. The same goes for military veterans who hoped to retire here and rely on the Anchorage VA for satisfactory health care services and relevant benefits. The quality of health care and other benefits veterans have earned and can access is 100% dependent on the VA facility near where we live. For those of us living in Anchorage, we know that we are unable to find adequate VA care when we have serious health concerns or if we are women. [The VA “leadership” says that the number of women veterans in Alaska does not justify the hiring or competent women’s health practitioners and the “better” local physicians in Anchorage will not not accept VA patient referrals.]

        Most veterans realize that promises made to us when we entered active duty and during our active service DO NOT APPLY in Alaska. And we can’t bother Ohio Dan about this as he told me he “pulled strings” to get the current Anchorage VA director his job. He likes him; we don’t.

      • My Father in Law used to say Getting old is the sh-ts, Veterans do not get the care they earned IMO

          • Having lived here in anchorage the past 40 years, and having listened to those same complaints sbout va care here in alaska all this time, I was pleasantly surprised by the opposite when zI enrolled with va for my health care . The physicians i have encountered there, along with medical assistants and clerical staff have all been courteous, efficient and caring. I suspectalaska is the exception to va health care across the country, by similar complaints i hear And read about, though. Senator Sullivan is doing a great job of watchdogging the VA here, in my opinion. Further, my primary care physician at VA here has referred me for specialty care whenever appropriate; and, fyi, i am a dental specialist and i know what good health care is.

  12. Defined pension costs run high but are even going to be higher soon . The current administration in the White House wants to force pension plan administrators into investing in green energy and other government endorsed sectors but will ban these very administrators from investing in fossil fuels , guns or anything else they deem undesirable to invest in which impedes the growth of the pension fund itself and further increase the cost of public pensions to the taxpayers . It already happens in California .

  13. The sooner this passes and is signed into law, the sooner we can finally lose that last 25% of the PFD with also welcoming new taxes, like sales and/or income. Our state will finally be whole because we’ll get to have that “golden noose” again, retaining people who would otherwise go away if they didn’t like Alaska. Yeah, this is such a good bill. /s

  14. All we hear is doom and gloom, much of it false. We need to retain our law enforcement. Any cost estimates of our never ending five and out we currently experience? We are having to pay large signing bonuses of $10-30K. How many multimillion dollar lawsuits will we encounter from understaffed and inexperienced public safety departments? The Prosperity for Alaskans folks never bring up these facts and figures.

    • You’re just being a union shill spouting propaganda. We’ve had the “five and out” since the inception of PERS in ’61. The vesting period has always been five years and when you get five years you can quit and take both your contribution and the State’s contribution to PERS. It is aggravated with State Troopers and FWP that during their first five years they can be involuntarily transferred to wherever the State needs them. Even when you have your five in, you still have to have an opening and the seniority to bid into it to get out of an undesirable post. The one surefire way to get out is to quit and take the money and some do. And, frankly, some guys aren’t cut out for being Troopers and some wives aren’t cut out for being Troopers’ wives. Even urban Alaska is hard on marriages. Once upon a time, the AST put as much effort into interviewing prospective Trooper wives as prospective Troopers, we we can’t do stuff like that in these enlightened times.

      We aren’t “having to pay” signing bonuses, and they certainly aren’t necessary for entry employees. If you were looking to filch an experienced Sgt, Lt, or Capt. from a Democrat sh*thole department it might be worth it to pay a signing bonus to avoid some or all of the training cost but that is about it. We are paying signing bonuses because the unions want them and the politicians, especially Gov. Dunleavy, whose ambitions are beginning to show, want union support. The only reason any Republican would be handing out goodies to unions is that he wants to buy their support for higher office; US Senate perhaps?

      • I will vote Begich before Dunleavy for senate. At least Nick is sorta honest in his positions.

        Dunleavy is the most useless person in politics I’ve ever seen.

      • What he means by five and out is that without the 20 or 25 year finish line of the defined benefits plan, Tier IV employees have a portable retirement after five years. There isn’t as much incentive to stay for 20 or 25 under the Tier IV system.

        • PERS has had 5 year vesting since its inception in 1961. Once you vest both the employer and your own contributions are yours. And while you’re vested you can’t retire after 5; you have to wait for age or time eligibility.

      • What an ugly and uninformed response. I expected so much more from you. I know many young officers who have left the Departments because they get recruited heavily by agencies in the lower 48. Without signing bonuses we would not have qualified applicants, but many that have applied have the five and out preplanned. I suppose you advocate for defunding the police as well. BTW, I’m no union shill, I’m an educated adult.

  15. They just MESSED with the wrong person. We who know Bernadette, know she has JUST BEGUN to fight and you know she won’t let this go easily. This is the national group that took her out in ALASKA..They are dumb to the facts and someone took the bait to destroy Alaska. I wonder just who LIED.

  16. I sorta kinda don’t think this will slow Bernadette down much. I do think State employees aren’t leaving in droves, since they have cushy jobs without fear of being let go any time soon. Maybe if we fixed the economy instead of offering handouts, we would be able to have a stable population that wouldn’t have to leave, but I guess that’s beyond the ability of these politicians to figure out.

  17. This is the result you get when union members get to vote for their own pay raises. They give legislators campaign contributions, and the legislators turn around and give them pay and benefit increases.

    Is it any wonder union members dominate voter turnout? What financial incentive do regular people have to vote?

    • It’s one of the few arenas where you can vote yourself a raise at taxpayer’s expense.

      Suppose it’s nice work for those who get it. The rest of us…

  18. All defined benefit recipients should be required to take multiple jabs. Oh, wait, that could drive up health insurance costs.

  19. In the private sector you pay 12.5% S.S. , employer matches 401k maybe 4 to 6%, if your lucky and have a 401k. Other wise your stuck with the measly IRA, max at 6500, a mere fraction of a the 401k. I worked that for 50 years, managed my own retirement account, I’m doing alright. And I did it on a 9th grade education. So just what the hell is the damn problem with with all of these highly educated, highly trained government union employees that they cannot make it with the same rules I had to play by? Well, I think they believe they are entitled to more than You and I. That they are better than us. I think they are just plain old GRIFTERS.

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