Lawmakers are expected to gavel in the 32nd Alaska Legislature in Juneau on Tuesday. You have to wonder who would want to?
The state is slogging through a COVID-19 pandemic. Its economy is on life support. Its cash reserves are dangerously low after years of profligate spending. Its unemployment rate is through the roof. And oil revenue? Well, it is still in the tank.
As the session unfolds, there will be questions about taxes and what to do about the Permanent Fund dividend, the annual payout that has become the tail wagging the state’s fiscal dog. Can Alaska afford it now? How will it be calculated? Will it be protected in the Alaska Constitution? Will Alaskans tolerate legislative tampering with what has become through the years an expected – no, demanded – sacred entitlement?
To add spice to the legislative stew, Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposes to cut state spending and hand every Alaska two payouts totaling about $5,000 in Permanent Fund dividends, a move that would require a draw of $6.3 billion from the fund’s Earnings Reserve, or more than twice the legally allowed amount.
Add to all that the uncertainty of who actually will be in charge of the circus. As it stands now, it appears both chambers will be led by a bipartisan majorities. You would have better luck herding cats.
We suspect the upcoming legislative session will, in the end, somewhat resemble Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell. You have to wonder why anyone would want to run for legislative office – especially this year – when a reasonable person would be running away.