Let’s vote on the PFD
With state government on track to shut down July 1 at the beginning of the new fiscal year if no operating and capital budgets are approved, the looming battles over the Permanent Fund dividend take on a life of their own.
There will be fireworks in the coming days and weeks over the dividend’s amount, how it is figured and whether it should be protected by the state constitution.
Much of the angst over the dividend springs from actions by former Gov. Bill Walker in 2016 and the Legislature in the two following years that cut the annual payout by about half. What they did was bad enough; how they did it, even worse. They ignored the traditional method of calculating the dividend that is set in law, and made the amount paid to Alaskans subject to political whim, endangering the payouts in the future.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy says he wants a dividend figured by the traditional method included in the operating budget for the next fiscal year. That would amount to about $3,000 for each and every Alaskan. He has offered a constitutional amendment that, if approved, would protect the traditional calculation from lawmakers shaking the bushes in the future for quick cash.
He proposed a budget earlier this year containing about $1.6 billion in spending cuts and money juggling that would have allowed a full traditionally figured dividend this year. That budget is unlikely to survive intact for a variety of good reasons.
It seems to us that no matter what the Legislature and governor want – or do – concerning the Permanent Fund dividend, not everybody is going to be happy. In the end, it boils down to a fight between government-first and Alaskans’-wallets-first forces. The question? Which is more important, money for government or for our bank accounts?
There are, it turns out, good arguments on either side, but proponents of various fixes are far enough apart that reaching consensus on any single solution is going to be almost impossible. In the interim they are not paying much attention to ordinary Alaskans. The politicians should be listening to what we all think.
There may be a way to answer all the questions about the dividend once and for all. Pay the traditionally calculated dividend this year, even though it may hurt – a lot. Then, let Alaskans’ vote on enshrining the traditional formula in the constitution.
If they vote “no,” the dividend in the future will be decided by lawmakers. If “yes,” then by the traditional formula.
The Permanent Fund dividend affects every Alaskan and every Alaskan household in some fashion. Alaskans should decide its future.