Nick Anderson misplaced his red knapsack last week – it has a wool baseball shirt and a wool cap...
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From Our Listeners
Alaska and Yukon Headlines
After wrestling with how to approach the state’s massive unfunded liability for months, the Alaska Senate unanimously agreed to put $3 billion toward the public employee pension system just hours after their plan was released.
The retirement bill was introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell last week, with the objective of shoring up the retirement trusts funds because the state’s unfunded liability is $12 billion. The House passed the legislation with no changes, but the Senate made two major modifications
While Parnell’s bill originally put $2 billion toward the public employee retirement system and $1 billion toward the teacher retirement system, the Senate version swaps those numbers because the teacher system is facing a proportionally larger funding gap.
The Senate also adopted a pension payment plan that involves smaller annual contributions in early years, with those contributions stretched out over a longer period of time. Parnell had proposed putting $500 million toward the retirement system each year for the next two decades. The Senate instead elected to go with funding plan that’s more responsive to how many state retirees are collecting benefits at any point in time. Under the Senate plan, the Legislature is expected to appropriate $350 million to the retirement fund next year, with those payments growing some each year as more retirees begin collecting benefits.
Senate Finance Co-Chair Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, said the pension plan should allow investment bond raters to experience a “sigh of relief” and help the state maintain a high credit rating. The bill also earned praise from Democrats, who have previously attempted to increase payments in to the retirement system.
The bill passed 20-0.
In a release, Gov. Sean Parnell offered support for the Senate’s version of the bill. The bill will now be sent back to the House for concurrence.
An effort to resurrect parts of a dead permitting bill was abandoned on Friday night.
Officials from the Department of Natural Resources had been working with Rep. Cathy Muñoz, a Juneau Republican, to attach land exchange language from House Bill 77 to a separate bill concerning land sales.
The exchange provision would have allowed the DNR to trade state land for private land, as long as the properties were of equal value or DNR determined the exchange was in the state’s best interest.
The Department of Natural Resources pitched it as an uncontroversial part of a very controversial and recently abandoned bill. When HB 77 was under consideration, the land exchange portion got scant attention compared to sections on water reservations, appeals, and general permits. But environmental advocates have now objected to the land exchange language, arguing that it removed public notice provisions and could allow for sweetheart deals for development projects.
“Rather than short-cutting the process, we should take care whenever public lands and resources are being traded away to a private entity,” says Lisa Weissler, a former assistant attorney general who opposes the language.
Rep. Muñoz had intended to offer land exchange language amendment to Senate Bill 106 either in a procedural committee or on the House floor. But when SB 106 came for a final vote on a Friday night, no amendment was offered.
Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash says the amendment was scrapped because of the immediate pushback.
“We were not going to ask anyone to take heat to do this, and there was a little bit of a heat generated by certain groups. So, no harm, no foul,” says Balash. “Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity in the future to look at some of these things, and specifically the land exchange piece, in a cooler time.”
Balash expects the language to come back next year in a standalone bill.