With just a few weeks left of the legislative session, Gov. Mike Dunleavy is calling on lawmakers to pass a “substantial” Permanent Fund dividend this year of roughly $3,700, saying the state’s increased revenues could cover the cost.
“With a $3.4, $3.5 billion surplus, we see a real opportunity to do good things for the state of Alaska,” Dunleavy said Thursday at a news conference at the Alaska State Capitol. “We are looking forward to as large a PFD as possible.”
In a statement, Dunleavy said he expected to see a dividend of “at least” $3,700, and at the news conference said he wanted to see payments as close as possible to the state’s statutory formula.
Dunleavy also called on lawmakers to pass his public security bills related to his People’s First Initiative and the Alaska Reads Act, a comprehensive reading bill that’s passed the Senate.
The House of Representatives passed the state’s operating budget earlier this month and included a dividend of about $1,200 as well as a one-time energy relief check of $1,300 and in a meeting with reporters Thursday House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said she thought that was a fair amount.
“We were real happy with what came out of the House,” Stutes said. “It’s fair, it takes care of a lot of things that need to be taken care of.”
Stutes said the House budget included funding for education, deferred maintenance, paying down oil tax credits and putting money into savings.
“We’re paying the state’s bills,” Stutes said.
When the House passed the operating budget it included an increase to the state’s base student allocation, the amount of money the state pays school districts per pupil. But Dunleavy said it would be difficult for him to approve the increase if the Legislature didn’t also pass the Alaska Reads Act.
If that bill didn’t pass, Dunleavy said “we would have to have a serious conversation about why giving money makes sense when we’re not supporting the reading bill.”
The Senate Finance Committee has been working on the state’s capital budget, and on Thursday heard for the first time the House’s operating budget bill. Committee members adopted an amendment to the operating budget paying the proposed “50-50” dividend, a dividend using half of the annual percent of market value draw the state takes from the Alaska Permanent Fund, roughly $2,600.
Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said the 50-50 split had support in his caucus, and that a bill to officially change the formula was expected on the floor of the Senate next week.
“The Senate is still interested in changing the statutes,” Micciche said. “Our goal is to satisfy the majority of Alaskans. I do believe for the Senate the 50-50 is the floor.”
Many Alaskans and lawmakers are frustrated with the Legislature not following the established formula for the dividend, Micciche said, and the 50-50 proposal reflects an amount the Legislature will be able to follow in the future. Micciche couldn’t say when the capital budget would be debated on the Senate floor but said it would be soon.
“This is a time when things start moving quickly,” Micciche said. “We’re working with the House on what’s important to them.”
In his news conference Dunleavy repeatedly used the word “optimistic” to describe his expectations for the remainder of the session. The governor said conversations with lawmakers reassured him the state’s business would be taken care of by May 15 or 16.
In last year’s initial budget, lawmakers split the funding source for the dividend and lawmakers were unable to achieve the votes needed to release all the funds. The Legislature ended up approving a dividend of $525, but Dunleavy called lawmakers into special session, calling the amount “a slap in the face,” to Alaskans.
On Thursday, Dunleavy didn’t rule out calling lawmakers back into a special session, but said he was confident lawmakers would end the session on time and with a sizable PFD. The governor also didn’t rule out releasing the dividend early, which he did last year, and said his administration would contemplate the move.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.