Legislature(2017 - 2018)HOUSE FINANCE 519

04/06/2017 01:30 PM House FINANCE

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
-- Recessed to a Call of the Chair --
Heard & Held
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
Moved HB 141 Out of Committee
Heard & Held
HOUSE BILL NO. 47                                                                                                             
     "An  Act   requiring  certain  municipalities   with  a                                                                    
     population  that  decreased  by more  than  25  percent                                                                    
     between 2000  and 2010 that participate  in the defined                                                                    
     benefit  retirement  plan   of  the  Public  Employees'                                                                    
     Retirement  System  of  Alaska  to  contribute  to  the                                                                    
     system an  amount calculated by  applying a rate  of 22                                                                    
     percent of the  total of all base salaries  paid by the                                                                    
     municipality to  employees of the municipality  who are                                                                    
     active members  of the system during  a payroll period;                                                                    
     authorizing  the administrator  of the  defined benefit                                                                    
     retirement  plan of  the  Public Employees'  Retirement                                                                    
     System  of  Alaska  to  reduce  the  rate  of  interest                                                                    
     payable by  certain municipalities that  are delinquent                                                                    
     in transmitting employee  and employer contributions to                                                                    
     the  retirement plan;  and providing  for an  effective                                                                    
Co-Chair Seaton invited Co-Chair Foster to join his staff                                                                       
at the table to present his bill.                                                                                               
1:38:02 PM                                                                                                                    
PAUL LABOLLE, STAFF, REPRESENTATIVE NEAL FOSTER, read the                                                                       
sponsor statement:                                                                                                              
     HB  47 seeks  to correct  an unintended  consequence of                                                                    
     the PERS  "salary floor" established  in SB 125  of the                                                                    
     25th Legislature.                                                                                                          
     SB  125  changed  the  PERS   system  from  a  multiple                                                                    
     employer plan to a cost  share plan. It transferred the                                                                    
     individual  liability of  the  160  PERS employers  and                                                                    
     consolidated  it so  that all  the  employers share  in                                                                    
     that liability.                                                                                                            
     SB 125  also created  what is  commonly referred  to as                                                                    
     the  2008   salary  floor.  This   requires  employer's                                                                    
     contribute  22%  of  annual salaries  or  22%  of  FY08                                                                    
     salaries,   whichever  is   greater.   The  floor   was                                                                    
     instituted  to  ensure that  the  system  could not  be                                                                    
     "gamed" by discouraging employers from replacing PERS                                                                      
     employees  with contract  hires  to  reduce their  base                                                                    
     contribution to the system.                                                                                                
     Some  municipalities have  found  themselves under  the                                                                    
     2008  floor through  no  fault of  their  own. A  large                                                                    
     change  in population  results in  a reduced  tax base,                                                                    
     which affects the services a  city can provide. As that                                                                    
     financial reality  drives a  city to  downsize, current                                                                    
     law  exacerbates this  problem  by  keeping their  PERS                                                                    
     contribution at  the 2008 level. This  bill targets the                                                                    
     communities whose  population has dropped by  more than                                                                    
     25% since the previous census.                                                                                             
     HB 47 will address this issue in two ways:                                                                                 
     1. Establish  a new  floor of  FY 2012  for communities                                                                    
     whose  population decreased  by more  than 25%  between                                                                    
     2000 and 2010.                                                                                                             
     2. Allows  the PERS administrator to  negotiate penalty                                                                    
     interest rates on delinquent payments.                                                                                     
     HB  47  does not  intend  to  repeat the  "2008  floor"                                                                    
     debate   but  to   correct   one   of  the   unintended                                                                    
     consequences caused  by the arbitrary line  that debate                                                                    
     I urge your support of this legislation.                                                                                   
1:40:22 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative  Wilson asked  whether  the  bill opened  the                                                                    
Public  Employees'  Retirement  System (PERS)  and  Teachers                                                                    
Retirement  System (TRS)  to  liability  issue. Mr.  Labolle                                                                    
responded that the bill would  "slightly add to the unfunded                                                                    
liability,"  but eliminated  "future  exposure" because  the                                                                    
qualification   period    was   during   a    past   census.                                                                    
Representative  Wilson  deduced   that  the  municipalities'                                                                    
contribution would  be reduced due to  decreased population,                                                                    
but  the  state  remained  liable for  the  retirees,  which                                                                    
represented the  initial increase in liability.  Mr. Labolle                                                                    
responded in the affirmative.                                                                                                   
1:41:25 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative  Ortiz  asked  Mr.   Labolle  to  provide  an                                                                    
example of how the legislation  worked. Mr. Labolle used the                                                                    
example of a fish processing  plant that closed in a village                                                                    
causing some  residents to  move away.  He assumed  that the                                                                    
villages  22 percent  contribution rate  was $150  thousand,                                                                    
and  the  2008 floor  was  $100  thousand. After  the  plant                                                                    
closure, the  villages 22 percent of  gross salaries dropped                                                                    
to  $80  thousand, but  the  village  was still  statutorily                                                                    
required to pay  the $100 thousand floor.  He continued that                                                                    
if the village continued to  pay the gross salaries, but was                                                                    
unable  to  pay  the  floor amount,  the  remainder  of  the                                                                    
difference was considered a delinquent  payment subject to a                                                                    
statutory 12  percent interest rate that  accrued each year.                                                                    
He  related that  the state  and municipality  did not  have                                                                    
options to mitigate  the debt due to statute.  The state was                                                                    
bound  by  law  to  charge the  12  percent  assessment  and                                                                    
indebted  municipalities  could  not declare  bankruptcy  or                                                                    
dissolve.  Representative  Ortiz   surmised  that  the  bill                                                                    
"moved the floor to a  later date, which would presumably be                                                                    
a less  burdensome floor" when  the population  decrease was                                                                    
factored in. Mr. Labolle responded in the affirmative.                                                                          
Co-Chair Foster  pointed out that the  situation Mr. Labolle                                                                    
provided was hypothetical. He  indicated the committee would                                                                    
hear testimony  from a  real situation  in Galena  where the                                                                    
military base closed.                                                                                                           
1:44:47 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative Grenn referred to  an email from the Division                                                                    
of Retirements and Benefits  {Jim Puckett, Division Director                                                                    
(copy on  file)] listing the  communities that  between 2000                                                                    
and  2010  lost  25  percent of  their  population  as;  St.                                                                    
George, Galena, and Pelican. He  asked for confirmation. Mr.                                                                    
Labolle  responded that  5 communities  qualified, but  only                                                                    
the three  Representative Grenn mentioned were  affected. He                                                                    
noted  that Atka  was  already paying  above  the floor.  In                                                                    
addition,  the community  of Anderson  had zero  active PERS                                                                    
eligible employees [St. George was also listed.]                                                                                
Representative Wilson wanted to  understand the fiscal note.                                                                    
She  reported  that  the  state was  required  to  pay  $129                                                                    
thousand  in the  FY 2017  Supplemental Budget  bill and  an                                                                    
additional $121 thousand in 2018.                                                                                               
Co-Chair Seaton asked Mr. Worley to come to the table.                                                                          
1:47:17 PM                                                                                                                    
KEVIN   WORLEY,  CHIEF   FINANCIAL   OFFICER,  DIVISION   OF                                                                    
RETIREMENT  AND  BENEFITS,   DEPARTMENT  OF  ADMINISTRATION,                                                                    
explained that  the figures were estimates  from the actuary                                                                    
based  on  the  reduced  floor that  shifted  the  remaining                                                                    
liability to the state.  Representative Wilson asked whether                                                                    
the state was required to  deposit the stated amounts in the                                                                    
PERS and  TRS funds. Mr.  Worley responded that  the figures                                                                    
would be an additional state contribution for PERS only.                                                                        
Co-Chair Seaton asked whether the  fiscal note satisfied the                                                                    
statutory  requirement   that  an  actuarial   analysis  was                                                                    
required. Mr. Worley responded in the affirmative.                                                                              
1:49:19 PM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair Seaton OPENED Public Testimony.                                                                                        
1:49:35 PM                                                                                                                    
JON   KORTA,   MAYOR,   CITY    OF   GALENA,   GALENA   (via                                                                    
teleconference), spoke  in favor of HB  47.  He read  from a                                                                    
prepared statement:                                                                                                             
     My  name  is Jon  Korta.  I  am  the mayor  of  Galena,                                                                    
     Alaska. I would like to  thank the committee for taking                                                                    
     time  today so  that I  may explain  the importance  of                                                                    
     HB47  for  communities  like   Galena  that  have  seen                                                                    
     significant population decreases in the last decade.                                                                       
     As you may know,  the Galena Forward Operating Location                                                                    
     was closed by  the United States Air Force.  As part of                                                                    
     the BRAC process, the Galena  FOL closure was effective                                                                    
     October  1, 2010,  but  had been  in  process for  four                                                                    
     years.  The  Air Force  base  was  the main  source  of                                                                    
     employment for Galena  residents. Not surprisingly, the                                                                    
     base   closure  resulted   in   a   reduction  of   the                                                                    
     population.  In  2000,  Galena had  675  residents.  In                                                                    
     2010,  470  residents,   representing  a  30%  decline.                                                                    
     Galena was again  struck by hardship in  spring of 2013                                                                    
     when  ice  dammed the  Yukon  River  and inundated  the                                                                    
     City, leading to a disaster declaration.                                                                                   
     The 2008 "Floor" established by  the current law exists                                                                    
     to prevent  a municipality from gaming  the PERS system                                                                    
     by  contracting   out  work  previously   performed  by                                                                    
     municipal employees  in order  to avoid  making ongoing                                                                    
     contributions  to   PERS.  The  current   minimum  PERS                                                                    
     contribution  is based  on the  level of  salaries that                                                                    
     existed  in 2008.  This purpose  does  not account  for                                                                    
     Galena's situation.  It was not  intended, nor  does it                                                                    
     contemplate,  municipalities   with  sharply  declining                                                                    
     populations.  HB 47  does not  change the  PERS policy,                                                                    
     but rather recognizes nuance.                                                                                              
     The amendment affects only  communities that suffered a                                                                    
     minimum  25% decline  in  population  between 2000  and                                                                    
     2010, like Galena. To put  that in perspective, the 25%                                                                    
     threshold  would represent  the loss  of 75,000  people                                                                    
     from Anchorage or 8,000 people  from Juneau. What would                                                                    
     happen  to   Fairbanks  if  the   Borough's  population                                                                    
     declined by 30,000,  while at the same  time seeing the                                                                    
     closure of Eielson and Fort  Wainwright? The demand for                                                                    
     municipal  administrative  and  public  services  would                                                                    
     decline  sharply; so  would the  municipality's ability                                                                    
     to  provide these  services  having  lost the  region's                                                                    
     economic driver.                                                                                                           
     HB 47,  which moves  the floor year  from 2008  to 2012                                                                    
     for  the   communities  that  experienced   these  huge                                                                    
     losses, does  not provide a "loophole"  allowing Galena                                                                    
     or any  other community with a  similar population loss                                                                    
     between 2000  and 2010 to  "game" the system now  or in                                                                    
     the  future. The  2008 floor  for these  communities is                                                                    
     replaced with  a 2012 floor. Galena's  budgeted payroll                                                                    
     for FY 2015 is above the 2012 amount for 17 employees.                                                                     
     Galena's circumstances  are not a result  of any choice                                                                    
     the city  made. The  base closure and  concomitant loss                                                                    
     of close to  1/3 of the city's  population was entirely                                                                    
     involuntary.  The  relationship   between  a  declining                                                                    
     population  and  declining   payroll  is  clear:  fewer                                                                    
     residents  =  fewer  public  employee  =  lower  public                                                                    
     payroll. Based  on the 2008  floor, Galena  is required                                                                    
     to pay  an amount owed  by a city  substantially larger                                                                    
     than  Galena.   Galena's  required   PERS  contribution                                                                    
     approaches half of the City's entire payroll.                                                                              
     Galena's FY 2008 salary total  was $1,513,365.19 for 36                                                                    
     employees.  Therefore,  Galena's  annual  minimum  PERS                                                                    
     contribution is  $332,940. In FY 2012  Galena's payroll                                                                    
     was $765,776  for 17 employees.  That is the  year this                                                                    
     amendment would move  the floor to for  cities that saw                                                                    
     a  25% decrease  in population  between 2000  and 2010.                                                                    
     Under  the 2008  floor,  Galena's  annual minimum  PERS                                                                    
     contribution  is  nearly  half  of  the  City's  entire                                                                    
     payroll costs.                                                                                                             
     For  Galena,  the   difference  in  PERS  contributions                                                                    
     between the 2008 "floor" and  FY 2012 actual payroll is                                                                    
     $164,000. This  difference will continue  going forward                                                                    
     creating  an  ever-increasing obligation.  By  statute,                                                                    
     any amount  unpaid accrues interest at  12%. This ever-                                                                    
     increasing  obligation  adds  to  an  already  stressed                                                                    
     situation.  The  City's   financial  situation  was  so                                                                    
     severe in FY 2011 that  it required a low interest loan                                                                    
     through the Alaska  Municipal Bond Bank to  deal with a                                                                    
     severe cash  flow crisis that was  preventing them from                                                                    
     being  able to  secure fuel  for heat  and electricity.                                                                    
     Simply put, if Galena cannot  pay its bills, the lights                                                                    
     go out in Galena.                                                                                                          
     The  2008   Floor  is,  overall,   a  sound   piece  of                                                                    
     legislation, furthering  sound policy, but it  does not                                                                    
     account  for all  situations. It  does not  account for                                                                    
     cities   that   have    suffered   massive   population                                                                    
     contractions.  This amendment  furthers the  underlying                                                                    
     policy  goals of  the  regulatory  structure: It  helps                                                                    
     ensure  that   municipalities  are  able   to  continue                                                                    
     contributing  to PERS,  while recognizing  that a  city                                                                    
     cannot, and  should not, have to  make the contribution                                                                    
     of a  city that has a  significantly larger population.                                                                    
     Recognizing that  Galena is  not the  same city  it was                                                                    
     before the base closed and  30% of its population moved                                                                    
     away is  simply good  policy, policy that  helps ensure                                                                    
     that Galena  continues to contribute  to PERS  and that                                                                    
     the lights stay on.                                                                                                        
     Recognizing   the   reality    of   sharply   declining                                                                    
     populations  is a  worthy amendment  and is  just plain                                                                    
     Thank you for your time  this morning. I would be happy                                                                    
     to answer any questions you may have.                                                                                      
1:56:13 PM                                                                                                                    
SHANDA HUNTINGTON, CITY MANAGER/CLERK - CITY OF GALENA,                                                                         
GALENA (via teleconference), read a prepared statement:                                                                         
     My name  Shanda Huntington  and I  am the  city manager                                                                    
     for  Galena,   Alaska.  Before  serving  as   the  city                                                                    
     manager, I served as the city  clerk for 6 years. I was                                                                    
     also  born in  Galena,  grew up  there,  and raised  my                                                                    
     children in Galena. I would  like to follow up on Mayor                                                                    
     Korta's   testimony   with  information   relating   to                                                                    
     Galena's population decline, the  base closure, and the                                                                    
     effects on city payroll and finances.                                                                                      
     As  Mayor Korta  said,  the air  force base  officially                                                                    
     closed  in 2010,  following a  multi-year drawdown.  In                                                                    
     1990, before base  realignment, Galena's population was                                                                    
     847. Galena has  always been a small city  and the base                                                                    
     was the  driver of economic activity.  According to the                                                                    
     2000 census,  the number of  residents, which  does not                                                                    
     include all of  the Air Force personnel,  was 675. That                                                                    
     number had  dropped to  470 with  the 2010  census. 205                                                                    
     people may  not sound like  a lot, but it  represents a                                                                    
     30% decrease in the  city's resident population between                                                                    
     the two censuses. 30% of  residents moved away, but the                                                                    
     decline  in  the  city's  economic  activity  was  much                                                                    
     greater. Without  the base, the  decline in  demand for                                                                    
     city  services was  disproportionate to  the population                                                                    
     For FY  2008, the  current floor year,  Galena's salary                                                                    
     total  was $1,513,365.19  for 36  employees. Therefore,                                                                    
     Galena's annual minimum  PERS contribution is $332,940.                                                                    
     In FY  2012, the  amended floor year,  Galena's payroll                                                                    
     was $765,776 for  17 employees. Between FY  2008 and FY                                                                    
     2012, Galena's payroll was cut  in half, reflecting the                                                                    
     decrease  in  population   and  in  economic  activity.                                                                    
     Galena's  current annual  minimum PERS  contribution of                                                                    
     $332,940 is  nearly half  of the  City's FY  2012 total                                                                    
     payroll  costs.  Allowing  a floor  year  of  2012  for                                                                    
     cities   that  experienced   a   drastic  decrease   in                                                                    
     population    changes     Galena's    annual    minimum                                                                    
     contribution to $168,940.                                                                                                  
     For  Galena,  the   difference  in  PERS  contributions                                                                    
     between the  2008 floor and  FY 2012 actual  payroll is                                                                    
     $164,000. This  difference will continue  going forward                                                                    
     creating  an  ever-increasing obligation.  By  statute,                                                                    
     any amount  unpaid accrues compounded interest  at 12%.                                                                    
     This  ever-increasing  obligation  adds to  an  already                                                                    
     stressed situation. The  City's financial situation was                                                                    
     so severe  in FY 2011  that it required a  low interest                                                                    
     loan  through the  Alaska Municipal  Bond Bank  to deal                                                                    
     with a severe  cash flow crisis that  was preventing us                                                                    
     from   being  able   to  secure   fuel  for   heat  and                                                                    
     electricity.  Simply  put,  if  Galena  can't  pay  its                                                                    
     bills, the lights go out in Galena.                                                                                        
     Reasonably  adjusting  the   floor  year  for  severely                                                                    
     impacted cities does not mean  that the cities will pay                                                                    
     the  minimum  amount  only. Modifying  the  floor  year                                                                    
     changes  Galena's  minimum   annual  contribution  from                                                                    
     $332,940 to  $168,940; the  actual contribution  may be                                                                    
     higher.  For FY  2013, Galena  would in  fact pay  more                                                                    
     than that  amended minimum. For  FY 2013,  Galena added                                                                    
     one employee,  for a total payroll  of $895,784.53. For                                                                    
     FY 2013,  Galena's contribution  would have  been above                                                                    
     the 2012 floor by approximately $30,000.                                                                                   
     HB  47  simply  recognizes   that  reality  of  drastic                                                                    
     population   decreases  experienced   by  some   Alaska                                                                    
     cities, using a clearly  defined metric: a 25% decrease                                                                    
    in population according the 2000 and 2010 censuses.                                                                         
     The base  closure has been  very difficult  for Galena.                                                                    
     As  previously noted,  Galena required  a low  interest                                                                    
     loan through  the Alaska Municipal Bond  Bank to secure                                                                    
     fuel for heat  and electricity in FY 2011.  In the last                                                                    
     several  years, Galena's  finances have  stabilized and                                                                    
     there  are  even  indicators   of  recovery  after  the                                                                    
     catastrophic decline.  We cannot  say what  will happen                                                                    
     to Galena's  population long-term, but we  believe that                                                                    
     we  have turned  a corner  in terms  of population  and                                                                    
     The  City  of Galena  is  adjusting  to a  new  reality                                                                    
     following  the base  closure  and loss  of  30% of  the                                                                    
     population.  This  legislation  is  one  part  of  that                                                                    
     adjustment. I  became city  manager during  a difficult                                                                    
     period  for  the  City. Our  finances  have  stabilized                                                                    
     somewhat  over the  last several  years. Requiring  the                                                                    
     City of Galena to pay to  PERS a contribution owed by a                                                                    
     much  larger city  weakens  Galena,  and threatens  its                                                                    
     ability  to provide  any contribution  to PERS.  We are                                                                    
     cautiously  optimistic   that  the  City   will  become                                                                    
     stronger and  even grow over  time. If and  when Galena                                                                    
     becomes  the city  it was  in  2008, the  city will  be                                                                    
     required to make a  PERS contribution commensurate with                                                                    
     that size and payroll, and  will do so gladly, but it's                                                                    
     not  that  city  right  now   and  the  oversized  PERS                                                                    
     contribution inhibits it from becoming so.                                                                                 
     Recognizing  the   reality  of   drastically  declining                                                                    
     populations  is  a  matter   of  simple  fairness.  The                                                                    
     amendment recognizes  this and ultimately  promotes the                                                                    
     goals  of  PERS:  ensuring that  Alaska  municipalities                                                                    
     continue to contribute their fair share to the system.                                                                     
     I would  like to  thank the  committee for  taking time                                                                    
     today  so that  I may  explain the  importance of  this                                                                    
     amendment for  communities like  Galena that  have seen                                                                    
     significant population decreases in the last decade.                                                                       
2:02:58 PM                                                                                                                    
KATHIE  WASSERMAN,  EXECUTIVE   DIRECTOR,  ALASKA  MUNICIPAL                                                                    
LEAGUE, ANCHORAGE, spoke  in support of HB  47. She reported                                                                    
that the  league had been  working on the issue  for several                                                                    
years. She  was the previous  mayor of Pelican,  Alaska. She                                                                    
relayed an example when the  local cold storage facility was                                                                    
purchased  by   Kake  Tribal,  subsequently   went  bankrupt                                                                    
resulting in  the city's 2008 floor  dramatically decreasing                                                                    
due to population  loss. She emphasized that  the 12 percent                                                                    
assessment  was incredibly  high.  She voiced  that in  some                                                                    
instances municipalities  fall into  a situation  where they                                                                    
could  never get  out of  the debt.  The league  offered its                                                                    
full support of HB 47.                                                                                                          
2:06:10 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative  Guttenberg  wondered  about the  ability  to                                                                    
collect  what a  city owed  for  a liability.  He related  a                                                                    
prior  conversation with  Michael  Lamb, [Interim  Executive                                                                    
Director   and  Chief   Financial  Officer,   Alaska  Energy                                                                    
Authority,  Department of  Commerce, Community  and Economic                                                                    
Development] who  was "instrumental"  in a  prior settlement                                                                    
agreement.  He  relayed that  Mr.  Lamb  stated a  community                                                                    
would never be able to pay  off its indebtedness to PERS. He                                                                    
stated that  communities were paying through  a formula, but                                                                    
it was  unknown whether  the payments were  underpayments or                                                                    
overpayments. He  asked whether the statement  was accurate.                                                                    
Ms. Wasserman responded  in the affirmative. She  spoke of a                                                                    
historical  arbitrary  percentage   that  had  been  decided                                                                    
between  the league  and the  Senate Finance  Committee. She                                                                    
acknowledged that some communities  might be overpaying, and                                                                    
some  were  likely  underpaying.  Representative  Guttenberg                                                                    
commented that  the purpose of  the bill was to  ensure that                                                                    
payments could  continue and were made  more affordable. Ms.                                                                    
Wasserman  explained that  the bill  did not  provide relief                                                                    
from the liability, but simply  moved the floor and adjusted                                                                    
the interest.  The municipality still owed  the principal of                                                                    
their past debt.                                                                                                                
2:09:04 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative Pruitt  asked whether Ms.  Wasserman expected                                                                    
other   cities   coming   to  the   legislature   requesting                                                                    
adjustments  in the  future. Ms.  Wasserman  replied in  the                                                                    
negative. She  explained that  wages continued  to increase,                                                                    
and  the  floor issue  will  likely  resolve itself  in  the                                                                    
future.  She  deemed that  it  would  be very  difficult  to                                                                    
revert further  than 2008  due to  inflation. Representative                                                                    
Pruitt  commented that  the municipalities  were asking  the                                                                    
state to  take on  more of  its burden.  He wondered  if the                                                                    
rest of the league's membership  was supportive of the bill.                                                                    
Ms.  Wasserman thought  the  other  member communities  were                                                                    
supportive. However, every municipality  was waiting for the                                                                    
state  to  address the  "termination  studies  and the  PERS                                                                    
floor," which were  the larger issues. She  claimed that the                                                                    
legislation was  only a temporary  fix for  communities that                                                                    
were  in a  desperate situation.  She was  still working  on                                                                    
additional legislation to provide a more permanent fix for                                                                      
the larger issues.                                                                                                              
2:12:51 PM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair Seaton CLOSED Public Testimony.                                                                                        
Co-Chair Foster indicated amendments were due on the                                                                            
following Monday by 5:00 PM.                                                                                                    
HB 47 was HEARD and HELD in committee for further