A Fair Solution for Alaska Public Safety Retirement

By Angelina Salvato

Update: 1 One hour before Published: 1 One hour before

When I was 21, I was hired as a probation officer for mentally ill sex offenders in Anchorage. I took the job because of my interest and knew in my bones that a government job was a solid bet. I was ready to settle down after college and start thinking about starting a family. I was born and raised in Alaska, and I knew I was lucky to have been raised in one of the wealthiest states in America. In 2007 I went to the Anchorage Police Department and was in the first police academy with new recruits who would no longer have a pension. We started with 21 in our academy class; a few of us were on retirement pensions, but most of the eager young recruits were unaware that a government job was no longer a safe bet. They didn’t know they were exempt from Social Security because they had a “government pension.” Little did they know they had a simple 401(a) retirement that would likely only provide them with a handful of years of income after more than 20 years of work as a police officer, and a health reimbursement account yet. smaller, or HRA, for medical. Only two of these officers remain in the APD 15 years later. Yes, they should have known about the retirement change, they should have researched. But that’s not the point. They chose this career because they wanted meaningful work and to protect their community. They wanted to be the ones who responded to help you on your worst day. And now, 15 years later, they’ve barely begun a meaningful retirement. Alaska is one of only two states in the United States that does not offer police pensions. It is time for that to change. It’s time for Alaskans to take care of our public safety professionals.

I am a taxpayer in Alaska. With the Permanent Fund dividend clearing, in typical years, I’m at a zero net payment to my city and state in taxes. I am proud of my ASD educated children. I take pride in professional public safety in Anchorage, my streets are clear and clean, and we live in a vibrant and diverse community. House Bill 55 is a reasonable return to a government pension for our public safety officers. Alaskans are quick to say that we are not like the rest of the United States, that we support our police and that we support all public safety employees. Now is the time to put some cash where our mouths are. Supporting public safety means helping them save for their retirement after 20 years of dangerous and stressful work. HB55 has been fully audited and state and public safety actuaries agree that it is responsible legislation with necessary safeguards for Alaska taxpayers. Those who oppose it are political pawns of the Lower 48; you can listen to their testimony on the Legislative Assembly website.

In 1929, President Hoover appointed the Wickersham Commission to deal with “police brutality”. In 1931, the report was complete; prohibition has been abolished, and here are two of the recommendations made to the police: 1. The corrupting influence of politics must be removed from the police organization; and 2. Officers should receive salaries that allow for a decent standard of living, housing, appropriate working hours, days off, vacation, sick leave, accident and death benefits, and reasonable pension benefits on an actuarial basis.

Over the past 100 years, police services have listened to their communities and responded to these concerns. The police have reformed, they have become more professional and they have opened up humanely. Police officers in Alaska are grateful to their community for the unwavering support, but we are struggling to stop them from moving on to greener pastures with promises of longevity and meaningful retirements. HB 55 is an overall cost reduction measure; we need to look at government services proactively rather than reactively. Our old pension system was a mess. HB 55 is not a mess. It was created after carefully reviewing these mistakes and responsibly and reasonably allocating the risk between Alaska and the officials who put everything on the line every day for that state.

My request to my community is simple: if you say you support public safety, please do your due diligence in this regard. If you do, you will find that HB 55 is a reasonable solution to our government pension. Contact your representatives and ask them to remove the policy from our public safety services and provide our first responders with a reasonable pension in exchange for their service to our state.

Angelina (Fraize) Salvato is a lifelong Alaskan and has been in law enforcement in Alaska for 20 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and a master’s degree from the University of Alaska in Anchorage. She is pursuing a doctorate. in clinical psychology and is an avid volunteer who is one of the founders of Anchorage Cops for Community, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

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