“The best way we could show respect for the voters who were upset is by telling them the truth,” said Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah to his fellow Republicans hours after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. “That’s the burden. That’s the duty of leadership.”
Of course, the truth Romney was referring is that Joe Biden won the presidential election. But if Gov. Mike Dunleavy showed that kind of leadership, Alaska’s long-running debate over the Permanent Fund Dividend would have been over two years ago. And we wouldn’t be facing a possible government shutdown.
“Never in our state’s history has a government shutdown been used as leverage to take the people’s PFD,” Dunleavy wrote on Facebook last week. A few hours earlier, the Legislature passed a budget that included a smaller PFD than he wanted. “It’s unconscionable that a small group of legislators would rather see the government shutdown than pay Alaskans a fair and equitable PFD.”
First of all, the small group of legislators he’s referring to are actually a clear majority. And they aren’t taking the people’s PFD.
But that’s been a constant theme of Dunleavy’s since before he was governor.
“I believe there should be no changes to the structure of the PFD unless it is approved by a vote of the people” he said as a candidate in 2018. “I support following the law crafted by the founders of the Permanent Fund Dividend program.”
From a legal standpoint, there was nothing wrong with his promise to use the 1982 statutory formula for determining the size of the dividend. However, he also wanted to retroactively pay eligible Alaskans the full dividend for the prior three years. And in pitching that idea he directly implied the reductions that began with former Gov. Bill Walker’s partial veto in 2016 didn’t comply with the law.
Walker’s veto was upheld by Alaska Supreme Court in 2017. In a unanimous decision, Justice Daniel Winfree wrote that unless a new constitutional amendment is ratified, “the Permanent Fund dividend program must compete for annual legislative funding just as other state programs.”
There’s no doubt that if the Supreme Court ruled that the veto violated the law, Walker and the Legislature would have abided by it and retroactively paid Alaskans the full PFDs.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, was one of the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit. He disagreed with the ruling. But like anyone who respects the separation of powers that anchors our democracy, he humbly accepted defeat.
The Supreme Court ruling is now the law of the land. But as governor, Dunleavy has been treating it as an alternative fact.
“Follow the law — that’s what Alaskans have demanded and deserve,” he said in June 2019 in response to a proposed Senate bill setting the PFD at an amount less than that based on the 1982 formula. When it passed both houses, he called it an “incomplete dividend.”
“I made a promise to Alaskans that I would always follow the law, and part of that promise includes a full statutory PFD payment,” he said the following December.
Not following the law is what Dunleavy said President Joe Biden did when he suspended lease sales in ANWR. In a lawsuit filed by 13 states, including Alaska, they alleged the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act by making an arbitrary and capricious decision.
“It is stunning that a federal judge has to tell the President of the United States to stop trying to illegally shut down environmentally sound oil and gas development” Dunleavy said after the court ruled in his favor.
It’s not uncommon that presidents lose in court. However, to call the ruling stunning, Dunleavy has to ignore the inconvenient fact that Biden’s predecessor lost 79 of the 85 cases in which he was accused of violating the APA.
What’s even worse is acting as if the rulings by the third branch of government are irrelevant. Which is what Dunleavy is doing by promoting the falsehood that the legislature is taking the people’s money.
It’s well past time that Alaskans be told the truth about the law as unanimously interpreted by the Supreme Court. Coming from Dunleavy, it would be a stunning display of leadership that we deserve but haven’t had.