Governor Palin has put funding of the Longevity Bonus into the budget she sent to the legislature. It’s my hope that the legislative finance committees approve her request. If that happens, application procedures must be in place for re-application, and that’s why I sponsored HB79, which was heard in the House State Affairs Committee today and sent on to the next committee of referral (Judiciary Committee). The following is the script of my prepared remarks to the committee supporting my bill:
This bill, HB79, does not – repeat, does not – restore funding for the longevity bonus. It does, however, make re-application for the previous program possible for previously qualified bonus recipients. However, no applications will be issued, unless the governor and the legislature agree to re-fund the bonus program. First of all, some history for those not in the legislature during 2003 and 2004.
I made a written campaign promise to longevity bonus recipients during the summer of 2002 to do my best to protect the longevity bonus and I’ve done my best to keep that promise “come hell or high water.” As a matter of disclosure neither I, nor anyone in my family, ever qualified for the bonus.
On May 8th, 2003, the then Commissioner of Administration came before this State Affairs Committee and presented HB158, the previous governor’s bill to eliminate the longevity bonus program. I told the then commissioner, among other things, that I believed the longevity bonus was a de facto contract between Alaska and its senior citizens. I believe Rep. Gruenberg (A State Affairs Committee Member) was there at the time – and he didn’t amend anything I said! The previous governor’s bill passed out of the State Affairs Committee, but with five out of seven “Do Not Pass” recommendations.
A similar bill in the Senate to eliminate the bonus, SB117, came to the House floor for a final vote on May 20, 2003. The bill was defeated in the House on May 20, with a vote of 25 to 13, with 2 excused absences. As a result, the longevity bonus was saved. Thirteen of the legislators who voted against the governor’s bill to eliminate the longevity bonus are in today’s 25th Legislature: 8 Republicans and 5 Democrats, plus the two Democrats who were excused the day of the vote.
On June 12, 2003, the governor line-item vetoed funding for the longevity bonus that the legislature had restored.
On January 12, the first day of the next session, an attempt to call a Joint Session of the Legislature to override the governor’s veto funding failed. As a result, there has been no funding of the longevity bonus since the governor’s veto.
However, and this is the important part, the longevity bonus statutes have never – have never – been taken off the books. In other words, to restore the longevity bonus - as it was - requires that the program be funded. Governor Palin has included that funding in her budget – and, along with many others, I thank her for that.
If the administration and the legislature agree to fund the bonus – as I personally hope they will - legislation that permits formerly eligible persons to re-apply is required. And that’s what this bill is about, and nothing else. It is my desire, if possible, that we move this bill out of committee today.
Note: HB79 passed out of the House State Affairs Committee with the following recommendations: 3 Do Pass, 1 No Recommendation, 3 Amend. I signed the report as Committee Chair