The Alaska House of Representatives, over the objections of the Republican Minority, agreed to a resolution to form up a task force that will look at restructuring the formula for how the Permanent Fund dividend is paid in future years. The vote went along caucus lines, with Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux voting with the minority Republicans.
Although the Democrat-led majority clearly had the votes, its leaders still made passionate arguments for the task force. At one point, Rep. Tammie Wilson, who joined with the Democrats in February, told the Republican minority to get over their “paranoia” and get on board with the task force concept, like she had. “Come on, guys,” she prodded them.
Rules Chair Chuck Kopp let his emotions get the better of him when he upbraided the minority, saying that if there is no change to the Permanent Fund dividend payout formula, there will be no dividend at all by 2025. He called for his fellow lawmakers to lead their constituents. His speech reflected the passionate opinions that the dividend program brings out in Alaskans.
“You don’t follow out of fear of people who are screaming who don’t have accurate information. Mr. Speaker, I’m all about leading, and I will give my constituents the truth and I invite them to not support me if they want to believe something else,” Kopp boomed.
The task force would be controlled through appointments by the House Speaker and Senate President. Minority members argued that giving two people in the entire the Legislature the power to form up a task force for the purpose of recommending a new dividend structure to the Legislature was blatant attempt to predetermine the outcome.
Rep. Laddie Shaw noted that the House already has a task force — it’s called the Finance Committee, and that’s where the work was supposed to be done over the past 145 days that the Legislature has been in session, extended session, and special session.
But there’s likely another reason the House didn’t take up the Permanent Fund dividend bill today, but just voted on a resolution to form a task force to study the dividend.
Those in the Legislature who see the need to trim back the statutory formula are also those who want to be in a position to override the vetoes the governor will certainly make to the operating budget, which passed the House today and will likely pass the Senate on Monday.
The next couple of weeks will be a game of three-dimensional chess between members of the Legislature who want bigger spending and smaller dividends, and a governor who first and foremost is trying to reestablish trust that people have in their government by making good on his promise to restore the PFD.