By ANDREW JENSEN
“Have you ever been to the villages at dividend time?”
That was the question posed to me during a phone call from House Finance Co-Chair Jennifer Johnston of Anchorage on April 1, and it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke.
That morning I published an opinion column chiding the Legislature for failing to utilize the Permanent Fund to help Alaskans during the worst economic crisis in the state’s history by first canceling the Senate-approved supplemental dividend and then refusing to move up the distribution of the traditional annual payment to provide immediate relief.
Johnston asked me how long I’ve lived in Alaska (I learned 10 years is “not very long”), what I know about state finances and whether I was familiar with the federal CARES Act (I covered it in the column she was calling about).
She then asked the question at the top of this piece.
Without ever asking to be off the record, Johnston went on to state that part of the reasoning for not paying the dividend early was because it would be too much money in rural Alaska on top of the federal payment that was approved in the CARES Act. She further claimed the congressional delegation actually discouraged the Legislature from paying a spring dividend because they shared the same concerns.
Representatives for Rep. Don Young, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan all denied such a message was conveyed to the Legislature either by them or members of their staffs.
“We unequivocally deny that anyone in our office — including Senator Sullivan — made such a comment to anyone,” wrote his communications director Mike Anderson. “Furthermore, no one in our office, including Senator Sullivan, holds such offensive views.”
(I relayed the denials from the delegation to Johnston in a text message. She never responded.)
In Johnston’s view, “social services would be overwhelmed” in the villages and elsewhere if Alaskans were to receive their 2020 dividend now instead of in October.
You read that right.