Kodiak Island’s legislators highlight education funding and state employee pensions during preview of legislative session

State Senate President Gary Stevens and Rep. Louise Stutes say they are already preparing for the likely possibility they will need to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes this year.

Kodiak Island’s two state legislators gave a preview of the upcoming 2024 legislative session to the city council Tuesday night (1/9).  

Stevens says he has invited Gov. Dunleavy to join the Senate majority caucus ahead of Tuesday’s start to the session. Regardless of how that meeting goes, or if it happens, Stevens says his main focus will be education funding and addressing pension issues for all state employees.

“As you know, several years ago we were in such a hole because of the pension, that we had to do away with it and went to a DC plan or defined contribution plan,” he said; “which really puts everyone who works for the state and works for the school districts in a very tough spot because they have to plan for their retirement and may not be prepared for it.” 

Stevens described the prior public employee and teacher retirement systems [PERs and TRS] the state last used in 2005 as the Cadillac of pensions, which he says was unsustainable to continue paying for. A potential alternative being considered by the Legislature is Senate Bill 88, which was proposed by Sen. Cathy Giessel last year.

Kodiak Senator Gary Stevens at a joint session of Alaska Legislature In Juneau supporting funding for University of Alaska. Photo: Screen grab from KTOO Gavel Alaska In Juneau.

Stutes, who is a member of the House Coalition, echoed Stevens’ priorities, emphasizing how poor employee pensions are leading to an exodus of state workers.

“If we don’t do something, what’s happening is we are the training ground. People come up here, they work for five years until they are fully vested, then they take their money and go down below and make 40% or 50% more,” she explained. “We’ve got to at least offer them a decent retirement.”

Stutes added that she is very involved in the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) and hopes to keep funding intact for the ferry system to operate at full capacity. Later this year, in the spring of 2024, marks the 60th anniversary of the Tustumena ferry sailing.

During Tuesday’s work session, Kodiak Mayor Pat Branson shared the council’s capital improvement program list, which has the St. Herman Harbor infrastructure replacement project as its top item. She asked the legislators for any insights into getting state funds or even bonds for Kodiak’s largest boat harbor.

 “Well it’s certainly been something we’ve talked about extensively,” Stevens replied. “And this is the year for it, when folks are going back (not me) for reelection, and communities are looking for capital projects.” 

As of this week, the City is planning to request $16-million from the state to complete the first two phases of work at St. Herman Harbor with an estimated additional $40-million needed to pay for phases three and four.

Gov. Dunleavy’s proposed budget does not include direct funds for Kodiak’s harbor or changes to the state retirement program and base student allocation funding.

Sen. Stevens and Rep. Stutes will join the rest of Alaska state lawmakers at the capitol in Juneau for the start of the legislative session on Tuesday, Jan 16th.

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