Bills propose increased local contributions to pension plans

JUNEAU— Bills calling for increased local contributions to two state pension programs and an overhaul of a community assistance program have been proposed in the Alaska Senate as lawmakers look to further cut costs amid a bulging budget deficit.

Measures introduced Monday would increase local contributions to the public employees’ and teachers’ retirement systems.

They also would phase-out a state-sponsored scholarship program and scale back the community revenue sharing program.

The bills, from the Senate Finance Committee, are interlinked: the teachers’ retirement system and scholarship bills play off each other, as do the public employees’ retirement and community revenue sharing bills.

A major teachers’ union and a municipal group were reviewing the bills and awaiting further details, but expressed concerns with their apparent direction.

Senate Finance Committee co-chair Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said money from the scholarship program would be used to ease the initial impact on districts from the proposed increase in teachers’ retirement system contributions.

There is language in the teachers’ retirement bill stating that it’s the Legislature’s intent to provide additional money to districts to mitigate the increased costs for the first five fiscal years under the bill.

Kelly said if lawmakers want to offset the impact on districts, it will have to find the money somewhere, and in this environment, they have to look at things that the state can’t do anymore. The state faces a multibillion-dollar deficit amid low oil prices.