House votes for higher dividend, but deal is far from complete

The Alaska House of Representatives has voted to approve a $2,200 Permanent Fund Dividend for this fall, a sign that it is abandoning a long-term deficit solution in favor of a one-year budget needed to avert a statewide government shutdown.

The 26-14 vote came Wednesday as lawmakers debated amendments to the state’s capital construction budget. The higher PFD amount was Amendment No. 1.

“At this point, it looks like we may be leaving this building with only a budget and without a comprehensive plan,” said Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage and the sponsor of the amendment.

“Without this amendment, we are headed for a budget that reduces the people’s PFD. And to this, Mr. Speaker, I say not only no, but hell no,” she added.

Earlier this year, the House approved a $1,250 dividend as part of its statewide operating budget proposal, one that was tied to a comprehensive fix for the state’s $2.7 billion annual deficit.

Wednesday’s vote was along neither caucus nor party lines. Twelve Democrats voted for it, as did 14 Republicans. Two independents voted against it, as did five Democrats and seven Republicans.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, joined others in support of the amendment.

“If we are not going to change the law, I think it is incumbent upon us to follow the law,” he said in a floor speech.

From Juneau, Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, voted against the higher dividend. Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, voted for it.

“I’d rather not say anything … until we’re done with the bill,” Kito said as more amendments were presented.

Parish was more willing to discuss his vote.

“As part of a fair and comprehensive plan, I would support using part of the dividend,” he said. “However, if we’re not asking anything of the oil industry and if we’re not asking anything of the 20 percent of nonresident workers in the state, I can’t in good conscience ask every one of my constituents … to contribute $1,100 to state government and the oil industry.”

Wednesday’s vote is a sign that members of the coalition House Majority are willing to make a short-term deal to avoid a government shutdown.

If the Legislature fails to pass a budget — and find a way to pay for it —before July 1, many state services will shut down for lack of funding.

[State shutdown would affect every man, woman and child in Alaska — including the dead]

The Legislature’s first special session ends on Friday, and it appears that even if a compromise is in the works, a second special session will be needed to finish it.

Until Wednesday, the House Majority had said that it was unwilling to accept anything less than a comprehensive fix to the state’s deficit. Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, has repeatedly pointed out that 2018 is an election year, and lawmakers are reluctant to make difficult decisions (such as raising taxes) in an election year.

Wednesday’s vote is the first sign that members of the House Majority may deem a shutdown worse than a persistent deficit. The state can fully fund its operations from savings for one more year without consequences to the dividend.

Wednesday’s vote on the dividend has a long road to become reality. The Senate must approve the higher dividend, and Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, appears to think negatively of the idea.

In a statement released after the House vote, he said the higher dividend adds more than $800 million to the state’s budget.

He called the addition an attempt by the House Majority to encourage passage of an income tax, even though half the majority didn’t vote for the higher dividend and many members of the Republican minority did vote for it.

Even if the Senate were to agree with the higher dividend, the idea must survive Gov. Bill Walker, who vetoed half of last year’s dividend and could do so again.

Walker, at the time, said the state needed to prioritize a long-term fix to the deficit.

“Drawing down from limited savings to fund the budget is not a viable plan,” Walker said at the time.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or call 419-7732.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 15

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 13, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Bill Thomas, a former Republican state representative from Haines, announced Friday he is dropping out of the race for the District 3 House seat this fall. (U.S. Sustainability Alliance photo)
Bill Thomas drops out of District 3 House race, says there isn’t time for fishing and campaigning

Haines Republican cites rough start to commercial season; incumbent Andi Story now unopposed.

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, speaks at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention on May 18 at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Peltola among few Democrats to vote for annual defense bill loaded with GOP ‘culture war’ amendments

Alaska congresswoman expresses confidence “poison pills” will be removed from final legislation.

A celebratory sign stands outside Goldbelt Inc.’s new building during the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Jan. 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Medical company sues Goldbelt for at least $30M in contract dispute involving COVID-19 vaccine needles

Company says it was stuck with massive stock of useless needles due to improper specs from Goldbelt.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 12, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A yearling black bear waits for its mother to return. Most likely she won’t. This time of year juvenile bears are separated, sometimes forcibly, by their mothers as families break up during mating season. (Photo courtesy K. McGuire)
Bearing witness: Young bears get the boot from mom

With mating season for adults underway, juveniles seek out easy food sources in neighborhoods.

A chart shows COVID-19 pathogen levels at the Mendenhall wastewater treatment plant during the past three months. (Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Wastewater Surveillance System)
Juneau seeing another increase in COVID-19 cases, but a scarcity of self-test kits

SEARHC, Juneau Drug have limited kits; other locations expect more by Saturday.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters during a news conference Feb. 7. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Gov. Dunleavy picks second ex-talk radio host for lucrative fish job after first rejected

Rick Green will serve at least through Legislature’s next confirmation votes in the spring of 2025.

Most Read