Little Known Statute Delays Alaska Pension Reform Bill

May 3, 2005 ( - Alaska lawmakers' efforts to reform the state's pensions systems took a detour Monday after a state House staff member discovered a statute requiring a fiscal analysis of any pension reform on the system's fiscal soundness.

The unearthing of the statute, which lawmakers said they didn’t previously know existed, sparked a series of developments throughout the day that ultimately left the bill where it had been at the start of day–heading to the House Rules Committee so it could be put on the calendar for a vote of the full House, the Fairbanks News Miner reported.

During floor debate Monday, House Majority Leader John Coghill recommended to House Speaker John Harris that the bill be sent back to the Finance Committee and the panel was assigned with approving some sort of summary of the fiscal impacts of the bill.

What they approved was a one-page memo from the state’s actuary, Mercer Human Resource Consulting, concluding that the bill would reduce the volatility of the system’s future costs and have no negative impact on the fiscal soundness of the systems.

The bill ultimately was forwarded to the Rules Committee so it could be scheduled for a full House vote. The bill proposes switching all new hires in the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) and Teachers’ Retirement Systems (TRS) from a defined-benefit system to a defined contribution system.

Senate Republicans, spurred by estimates that the PERS and TRS face a predicted long-term debt of $5.7 billion, have put extensive pressure on the Legislature to pass a bill that contains a defined contribution system for incoming workers. They made $38 million of a proposed increase in education funding dependent on the switch.

More pressure was added through the inclusion in the bill of $69.5 million in funding for municipal governments and other PERS and TRS employers to pay their increased retirement costs next fiscal year. However, the Finance Committee voted to decouple that funding from the bill Sunday. The funding will likely instead come from the state’s operating budget, lawmakers said.