After all the talk of a super-sized dividend or a smaller-than-average dividend, Alaskans might be getting the same Permanent Fund Dividend this year that they got last year.
The Alaska Senate is considering a bill that would give out a $1,600 dividend this year, which would be the same amount as last year. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sens. Bert Stedman and Natasha von Imhof, proposed the bill Monday, and the Senate is set to debate the bill at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
The bill introduced Monday, Senate Bill 1002, could be amended on the Senate floor Tuesday, so the $1,600 figure could change before it gets sent to the House. Gov. Mike Dunleavy would also have to sign off on the bill, and he has been adamant that he wants to give Alaskans a full, $3,000 dividend.
Dunleavy did not mince words in a statement Monday, assuring that if the bill gets to his desk, he will veto it.
“This bill kills the Permanent Fund Dividend as we know it,” Dunleavy said in his statement. “The PFD is your share of Alaska’s mineral wealth, and there should be no change to the dividend without a vote of the people. That’s what I promised on the campaign and that’s the promise I intend to keep. I cannot and will not support this legislation.”
During his campaign and prior to the session beginning, Dunleavy asserted his desire to not only pay a full, $3,000 PFD, but to also include back payments to make up for the fact that the Alaska Legislature cut the PFD amount the past three years to balance the state’s budget. Legislators have all but ignored the back pay option.
Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon told The Associated Press on Monday that he believes there would be support in the House for the $1,600 total. He went on to tell the AP that if Dunleavy vetoed the bill, it would almost certainly cause another special session.
During this legislative session, lawmakers have been gridlocked on the amount of the dividend and the future of the fund itself. The Legislature has had to go into a special session (which is now halfway through its 30 days) to iron out the PFD, along with the budget and other issues. Some lawmakers have advocated for a full PFD, while some have suggested lower-than-usual dividends. The original budget from the House, for example, allowed for about a $1,200 dividend.
SB 1002 unanimously passed the Senate Rules Committee on Monday. During that committee meeting, Stedman spoke about the ins and outs of the bill. The bill would take $770 million from the state’s general fund and $172 million from the budget reserve fund (which the Legislature is allowed to access as long as a majority of members vote to do so).
It would also take between $128 million and $148 million from the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund. This fund assists Alaskans who pursue secondary education in state. Stedman said the fund currently has more than $300 million in it, and said he doesn’t think drawing this money puts the fund in jeopardy in the short term.
Stedman and the members of the Senate Rules Committee — a group that includes Senate President Cathy Giessel, Majority Leader Mia Costello and Minority Leader Tom Begich — agreed that it’s vital that the Legislature figures out a way to make the PFD sustainable into the future.
“We’re impacting our descendents, and not (just) for next year or 10 years from now, but 25 years from now, 50 years from now, 100 years from now, it goes on in perpetuity,” Stedman, a Sitka Republican, said. “So it’s a significant decision that faces the Legislature, how to finance our current obligations and not devour our seed capital that really should be left for future generations of Alaskans.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.