Anchorage Republican pushes bill to give troopers, firefighters a secure retirement

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — An Anchorage Republican is pushing forward legislation that would deliver a defined-benefit retirement plan for public safety workers.

Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, introduced House Bill 79 to provide “financial assurity” for Alaska State Troopers, firefighters and corrections workers.

His plan would delay retirement until 55 and be available after the minimum years of service. It would be fully funded and require an annual actuarial analysis to make sure it isn’t overloaded.

Since 2005, the state has not offered a defined-benefit retired program for its employees after a multibillion-dollar shortfall created a massive unfunded liability. Instead, workers are offered a 401(k)-type plan that can be cashed out after five years.

In recent years, AST has lost troopers with little financial incentive to stay in Alaska in favor of agencies that offer a defined-retirement benefit plan. Kopp said that’s had a big impact on keeping top-tier employees who act as mentors for younger staff.

The losses have borne out a big cost for the state. A 2018 analysis found that it costs around $190,000 to train an Alaska State Trooper.

Kopp, who served for 20 years in law enforcement, says knowing how much a person can retire with makes a big difference in combating the stress and hardships of a tough job.

“Every time you kiss your wife goodbye and you go out the door, you know you might not be coming home but you suppress that, you stay focused and you do your job,” he said. “All we’re trying to do is recognize that we have a group of employees who are leaving the state in droves, because we have not provided any financial assurity for them when they have made this commitment to us. This is a small commitment back to them that they’re valued, we want you stay and we’re going to do our part.”

House Finance Committee member Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, said she could get behind legislation that provides a defined pension plan for law enforcement.

“We keep saying that we want more troopers, we want local officer enforcement, and we know it's a real challenge for recruitment and retention,” she said.

HB 79 was referred out of House Labor and Commerce Committee to the House Finance Committee, where it will be heard on Thursday.