Longevity bonus, worker tax bills clear committee

Posted: Friday, April 04, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Legislation to impose a $100 tax on workers and end the state's senior citizen longevity bonus program cleared the Senate State Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Both measures now go to the Senate Finance Committee.

Gov. Frank Murkowski proposed ending the longevity bonus program to save about $47.5 million a year. Senior citizens and their families have testified fiercely against the measure.

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, sponsored the employment tax bill to raise about $39 million a year for state coffers.

The Republican governor had suggested legislators pass either that tax or a seasonal sales tax to help close the gap between state spending and revenues.

Both bills passed the Senate State Affairs Committee on party-line votes, with Sen. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, voting against both.

Committee Chairman Stevens said the administration had asked that the bills be moved on to the Finance Committee, which will consider them along with other fiscal measures.

But Guess chided Republicans on the committee, arguing the longevity bonus bill should be killed in committee because it frightens seniors.

Some seniors testified that they need the monthly checks, which range from $100 to $250, to pay necessary expenses.

I truly believe if there's a time to stop a bill, it's this time,'' Guess said. It's keeping people up at night. It needs to stop.''

The worker tax bill would require employers to deduct $50 each from employees' first two paychecks, starting in July 2003. Self-employed workers would be expected to send in their own taxes.

Stevens said the worker tax will supplement education funding and reduce the state's draw from its budget reserve.

But Guess said the bill won't actually increase spending on education. And she said it is worse than an income tax because independently wealthy Alaskans won't pay it.

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