Opinion: Alaskans Need the PFD now

  • Saturday, March 21, 2020 10:36am
  • Opinion

Alaska is at a critical point.

Oil prices have tanked. The threat from the COVID-19 virus is obvious. Our state’s fiscal and budgetary situation is in chaos.

The wealth Alaska has received in the last four decades from oil belonging to the citizens has largely been spent. Looking back, it is easy to determine we spent too much of our non-renewable oil wealth and saved too little.

As a result of our spending habits, we face a fiscal crisis, one that is augmented by the COVID-19 virus, low oil prices and a volatile stock market.

Our organization, the Permanent Fund Defenders, believes prompt action is required to prevent Alaska from falling in economic catastrophe. Instead of managing this crisis, we fear our elected officials will accelerate the raids on the Permanent Fund earnings and deny Alaskan citizens the direct benefits of their savings account.

Now is the time for all Alaskans to stand together to defend the Permanent Fund and use our savings wealth for the benefit of every Alaskan.

Wealthy Alaskans and those with power want to divert funding for the PFD into government, so they do not have to pay taxes. This hurts those among us with the smallest resources and builds the budget on the backs of the poor.

Given the crisis we face, the wise thing for our elected officials to do is immediately make an additional PFD payment based on the 2019 application process. Using the 2019 application process will allow for payment of a $1,400 within sixty days, benefiting every eligible Alaskan and especially those most in need.

Payment of $1,400 to every Alaskan eligible for a PFD last year will provide a buffer to the economic uncertainty caused by low oil prices and the COVID-19 virus.

Alaskans need relief today, not down the trail. Governments like Hong Kong are making immediate cash payments to every adult resident to stimulate their economy, a move hailed by many economists as a sound way to protect the economy and reduce economic uncertainty.

Alaska’s people and our economy will benefit from an immediate payment to every person of $1,400. Payment now, based on the eligibility requirements from last year when the PFD was reduced, will help Alaskans through these difficult times.

The earnings generated by the Permanent Fund belong to the people of Alaska, not the lobbyists and special interests trying to deny Alaskans from obtaining a responsible share of their saved wealth.

For too long, Alaska’s politicians have avoided making the hard choices that would put our state government spending on a sustainable trajectory. Our politicians have spent too much, avoided tough calls on making government more accountable and toyed with various borrowing and fiscal incentive schemes that favor powerful special interests. It’s past time for Alaska’s elected officials to put the citizens first and stop pandering to special interests.

Now is the time for the legislature to act by appropriating a portion of the earnings wealth to the people. The earnings wealth derived from the Permanent Fund belongs to the citizens of Alaska, not the special interests. Payment of an additional $1,400 as part of the 2019 PFD program will help individuals in our state and mitigate the economic impact caused by the COVID-19 virus and a diminished economy.

Going forward, what Alaskans deserve and need is a constitutional amendment that permanently protects the Permanent Fund. The mineral resource wealth from our commons belongs to all Alaskans equally. Every Alaskan deserves an equal share of our wealth.

After the legislature appropriates a supplemental PFD payment, they need to put a constitutional amendment before the voters allowing for a sensible draw from Permanent Fund earnings, perpetual protection of the

Permanent Fund from the ravages of inflation and a guaranteed payment of a dividend to every eligible Alaskan.

Permanent protection of the people’s wealth and payment of a dividend is hardly a radical proposition. After all, the wealth belongs to the people of Alaska, not the lobbyists and special interests trying to deny Alaskans from obtaining a responsible share of their saved wealth.

• Joe Geldhof is a Juneau lawyer and a member of the Permanent Fund Defenders Board. Other board members contributed to this My Turn. The board includes Chairman Clem Tillion of Halibut Cove, Jack Hickel of Anchorage, Rick Halford of Aleknagik, and Juanita Cassellius of Eagle River. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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