Sunday, June 12, 2005

Board member says meddling pushed him out --

from Juneau Empire, Web posted June 12, 2005, by MATT VOLZ - The Associated Press

In my state of Alaska our right wing republican administration appears to be right in line the with the national administration, that is, out to permanently damage public education. This past legislative session saw them do what Bush and company have not yet been able to do, take away retirement programs from teachers, police and fire personnel and state workers and replace them with a defined benefits package. We knew that was happening but now this. And all this is buried inside of the newspaper that serves the state capital.

A state Public Employees Retirement Board member has resigned, accusing the Murkowski administration of manipulating and interfering with the board and its duties.

The resignation of Pat Wellington, a 27-year board member, will have little effect because the board's final meeting was canceled at the request of Gov. Frank Murkowski.

In a May 31 letter to Chairman George Sullivan, Wellington said Administration Commissioner Ray Matiashowski and Retirements and Benefits Director Melanie Millhorn "have interfered with the board's duties, responsibilities and its members' professional integrity."

Most of Wellington's allegations focus on the administration's assistance with legislation to change the public employees and teachers retirement systems from a traditional pension plan - called a defined benefit plan - to a defined contribution plan with 401(k)-type investment accounts.

The bill, Senate Bill 141, passed the Legislature after a protracted political battle that forced a special session last month. The measure was pushed by the governor and Senate Republicans who said it was a structural fix to the systems and a first step to solving the systems' $5.7 billion shortfall.

This supposed shortfall has yet to have been proven and even if it's true this bill does not fix the problem. Sound familiar?

The bill includes consolidating the three oversight boards - the teachers, public employees and Alaska State Pension Investment boards - into one. The new board goes into existence Oct. 1.

Now this is new to me and I believe it is going to be a shock for all state workers.

"Throughout the process of getting SB 141 passed, Mrs. Millhorn has allegedly spent defined benefit trust funds in support of passage, provided misinformation to the Legislature regarding the operation of the PERS, TERS and ASPIB Boards, and as a result has been successful in getting all three boards eliminated," Wellington wrote.

The emphasis is mine. I can not believe that this is happening and likewise I cannot believe that this is not headline news!

"Through Commissioner Matiashowski and Mrs. Millhorn's efforts, the approximately 65,000 ... active and retired public employees now have no elected members on the new Alaska Retirement Management Board," the letter reads.

Reached Friday at his Utopia, Texas, home, Wellington contended administration officials were evasive or lied when he asked about their involvement in preparing Senate Bill 141 and pushing for a defined contribution system.

Matiashowski and Millhorn both denied the allegations.

Wellington also said he believed the governor requested the final board meeting be canceled because Murkowski did not want a public review of an attorney general memorandum whether retirement trust funds were spent on Senate Bill 141.

At least they admit it. "Murkowski did not want public review..." So this is what we have: A small state with many rural villages off the road system. The weather sucks. It's very dark and very cold most of the year in most places. The cost of living is very high. Rural schools are consistently underfunded. Teachers have always been hard to recruit. We used to be the best paid teachers in the country but that is not near true anymore and we are losing more ground all the time. Then, our administration continues to do things to make it harder to recruit good people.

Sounds to me like this administration does not care one iota about public education. And that sounds familiar to me.

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