Tensions over pensions: H.B. 22 is fast-tracked through House committee, but trips on its own schtick


Normally, Alaska’s legislative committees start out the session with general fiscal presentations from agency heads. Legislators hear from the Office of Management and Budget and oil economists, so that before they make big fiscal commitments, they know what the state’s economic outlook is.

But not this year’s House Community and Regional Affairs Committee. They’re fast-tracking spending bills.

In Juneau, the CR&A committee went roaring out of the gate with the most controversial bill of the season: House Bill 22, sponsored and pushed hard for the past two week by Democrat Rep. Andy Josephson, who has been taking advantage of freshmen in the House by wielding his superior knowledge gained in years and years of legislative service.

HB 22, to punch up the pensions for firefighters and public safety workers, was rushed through the House CR&A Committee, its first committee of referral, and managed to get approved within two weeks — without so much as a fiscal note.

Therein lies the problem: No one has any idea how much it would cost to return firefighters, paramedics, and state troopers to a pension plan such as existed in the early days of Alaska statehood, when it was hard to attract workers to the new state. The best guesses range between hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1.2 billion.

The members of the committee voted four to two in favor of the bill, with Committee Chair C.J. McCormick, Democrat; Justin Ruffridge, Republican; Donna Mears, Democrat, and Rebecca Himschoot, Independent-Democrat voting in favor.

Republicans Kevin McCabe and Tom McKay voted against moving the bill so quickly, because there’s no real understanding of the costs.

But regardless of the final vote, HB 22 is technically still in CR&A. The committee is going to need to do an do-over because it cannot go to its next committee, State Affairs, without a fiscal note.

Meanwhile, the CR&A committee made yet another blunder: It did not publicly advertise meetings for next week, and so there can be no do-over by this committee on HB 22 for several more days.

In addition, subcommittees for Finance have started meeting in earnest, and members of CR&A have to peel off to attend those numerous meetings, to which they’ve been assigned, crowding the calendar for the coming few weeks as department budgets go through rigorous subcommittee review.

HB 22 was being rushed through, said Rep. Kevin McCabe, who is the committee’s vice chair.

McCabe said even the letter from the Anchorage Assembly encouraged the Alaska Legislature “to diligently vet House Bill 22 and Senate Bill 35, in committee and in collaboration with the municipalities to produce a final bill for passage.” He was pointing out that the key words were “diligently” and “vet.”

McCabe pointed out the committee hasn’t been given the opportunity to talk to municipalities “to find out what it’s going to take, to find out what it’s going to cost.” He said the rough estimate shows it could cost up to $400,000 for one fire department he heard about in the Mat-Su Borough.

According to the Division of Retirement and Benefits, there are 31 communities or employers that are arrears in paying for the still-on-the-books defined benefits. “So are we going to drive them into further delinquency?” McCabe asked his fellow committee members.

“This is a huge bill, and to see it jammed into our committee in the first week was surprising to many of us,” said McCabe, who opposed the bill.

The bill goes to the State Affairs Committee next, but since it cannot go without a fiscal note, it’s in limbo, and may remain in limbo for another week or more, while the committee Chair, CJ McCormick shakes off the trick that Rep. Josephson pulled on him by advising him to push it through quickly.

Meanwhile, one of two Senate bills may end up being the final vehicle for the increase in benefits. Sen. Scott Kawasaki has a similar bill to HB 22, and Sen. Jesse Kiehl has a bill that would add teachers into the new, improved defined benefit program they are proposing. Both sponsors are Democrats, like Rep. Josephson in the House.

Any one of these bills, however, will not likely pass muster with Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who may exercise his veto pen, if tempted.


  1. They have to pay their voters as normal. Every time the libs finish an election cycle they give money to the unions. All public unions should be outlawed or not allowed to vote.

  2. Either all, public servants and private sector people should get free health care and retirement benefits paid for by the state or none of us should get benefits from the state.

    • Joseph are you advocating all out socialism ? I want mine too…. I like Mark’s plan better! “All public unions should be outlawed or not allowed to vote. ” If not just, NOT Allowed to Vote, that being those ( Legislators ) that toke money from union’s when campaigning ! There has to be a way to cut out this corruption!

      • ED; I despise government unions that I have to pay for as a private sector small business and not receive any benefits.
        If government employees want free benefits then it can come out of their wages..

    • 1. Why are state employees prohibited from doing social security? Some state’s employees do have social security as well as any other retirement programs.

      2. Why not let these unions pushing for defined benefits run their own defined benefit program? Leave the state entirely out of it, except for the state’s matching contribution to the employees payment while working. Self funded by the workers and self administered by the union. That way taxpayers (more likely PFD cuts) who do not have these kinds of benefits will not be on the hook to fund them.

  3. Costs be damned.

    We have a voter base to build and the Perm Fund corpus is just sitting there. Plus income taxes. Maybe they can try to raid private pensions, too.

    The only way they can’t make money is by profiting from the energy sector. Biden (with help from of federal representatives) has throttled it.

  4. Our existing obligations to PERS/TRS is a staggering 7 to 8 billion dollars- or about $11,428.00 per Alaskan.

    How about an income tax on working Alaskans to pay off the existing debt? That should be a great way to get even more people to move out of Alaska. Our property taxes are already way too high.

    The late Rep. Mike Kelly deserves a lot of credit for getting us out of the defined benefit system. The system was way, way too expensive. There better not be any Republicans voting for this bankrupting madness. And I’d expect Dunleavy to veto this if it even got through.

  5. We need to reform public pensions. Eliminate pensions and institute a 401k type syem that private companies use. Also other than fie and police there should not be public employee unions as the negotiators are in bed with the recipient.

    • The current Tier 4 benefit plan is already in place to be a 401k type plan since 2006. The UNIONS want to get to go back to a defined plan that would completely bankrupt the state. After all, bankruptcy would get the legislature to hand over the pfd money as well as ensure more government employees would stay to at least get gested into the defined plan (usually 5 years of full time employment, depending on the union negotiated contract).
      I have worked for both the muni and the state and i can see that the unions are the nightmare to all of the administrations. You can read any of the current contracts online and see all their current benefits to see for yourself how coddled these employees are. Many of you would be flipping off these unions if you saw what they get for the employees, and HOW MUCH OF YOUR PAYCHECK THEY GET in return. I opted out of the union (never joined) when i went to state service. There is nothing like a peek under the hood, read any of their contracts…


  6. Good, highly qualified law enforcement costs money, and that means pensions. If you support law enforcement, you support pensions for law enforcement.

    • Defined benefits are grossly expensive and unsustainable. They make it so that the retiree can earn up to 90% of their salary in retirement, over committing the state to maintain this level in perpetuity, especially in a state where oil profits and the commerce landscape are in a constant state of flux. In the PERS system, states even taken over making the employee contribution and the employee sits back and rides the wave to retirement, while the taxpayer funds everything. With a state revenue stream like the PDF, the shareholders of Alaska will be constantly swindled out of their share to satisfy budgetary shortfalls, all in the name of keeping the retirement coffers filled and keep our first responders content. It’s the elephants trunk under the tent flap, but the beast will bring down the house as he tears out the foundations.

  7. How embarrassing for the freshman led by Josephson. How shameful for Josephson to run this bill like this. Kudos to McCabe and McKay for trying to do the right thing – they’ve taken a lot of heat for it by the so called newspapers and bloggers. Keep up the good work you two!

    • They’ve taken heat for good reason. But I’m sure the Blowhard from Big Lake appreciates your fawning devotion.

      The most embarrassing aspect of that committee meeting was Rep. McCabe, as any objective viewing would conclude. Laughable for him to scold others about diligent vetting of a bill he admitted he hadn’t even bothered to read himself. Hard to imagine he won any friends in the legislature or supporters outside for being little more than an unprepared, decorum-flouting bully.

      Did you see the whole meeting? Do you wonder, as I do, if Atlas Air and the company that insures its pilots and aircraft know their employees intentionally risk themselves and company planes by flying fatigued, just for the overtime, as McCabe insisted they do at around the 45:50 mark of this video-recording of the whole meeting:


  8. This bill has been given negative publicity. With our current system it’s 5 years and out. Meaning, the state spends millions on recruiting, training, outfitting, and a generous tier 4 match. After 5 years the employee is fully vested, experienced, and proficient at their position. They leave for greener pastures. It’s wash, rinse, repeat but now we’re not getting the new recruits to replace those exiting.

    • It has always been five years and out. You’ve been vested at 5 since the beginning of PERS. After 5 you could take your money and the State’s money, and go. I did it at five and change. Came back to State service 30 years later and bought the old time back for only $30K and change.

  9. It should be very easy to see which politicians will be supportive of this bill. That would be the ones, of both parties, who’s campaign was mostly funded by the union, and now must repay their debt. These people represent only the special interest groups that got them elected, not their constituents. And the special interest groups are down in Juneau to remind them of their pact in person while we watch the show from far away. It would be cheaper to take a vacation in Hawaii than to visit our own capital. The source of funding for all political campaigns needs to be more transparent so that even the low information voters will be aware of the game. That’s a large group of voters.

  10. How do you feel about public safety? Our experienced officers are being bought right out from under us. We can’t get new recruits without offering huge signing bonuses. At about 4.5 years of service, Alaskan officers get heavily recruited with more bonuses. Great for the other out of state agencies…all fully trained, a proven track record, hundreds of thousands of dollars to leave the state with. Picture perfect lateral recruits. Laughable you want to talk about costs.

  11. So I looked up to see if there were any fiscal notes on this bill. One is dated 1/28/23. Does that mean Josephson withheld this from the committee last week? It’s not online yet. He specifically denied any fiscal notes. WTH?

  12. The old state pension system(s) were simply not sustainable. Anyone who thinks otherwise would do well to investigate what has happened in Illinois. I am absolutely sick of politicians who pen these pie in the sky bills with utterly no thought to their true costs. To make it worse, these idiots will never bear the risks of their stupid policy decisions.

Comments are closed.