ADVICE FOR THE GOVERNOR FROM A PFD DEFENDER
By JOE GELDHOF
Alaskans have achieved noteworthy accomplishments over the years. Among these are the adoption of a stellar constitution and the establishment of the Permanent Fund.
We Alaskans also decided to link the public funds placed in trust as part of the Permanent Fund with the citizen owners of the fund by paying an annual Permanent Fund dividend to every eligible Alaskan.
The Permanent Fund Dividend is one of Alaska’s best ideas. Payment of the annual dividend from the earnings of our public savings knits together our diverse state.
The dividend is the one way we treat every Alaskan equally. And why shouldn’t we all be treated equally? The savings that generate the dividend payment belong to all of us.
Unfortunately, the funds that flow from our Permanent Fund that are used to fund the annual dividend are being held hostage by interests with varied agendas.
The link the dividend forges between each and every Alaskan and their Permanent Fund is being sacrificed to accommodate government spending and other agendas advanced by factions inside and outside of Alaska.
In this contentious atmosphere, Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s steadfast support of the PFD is admirable. The governor’s resolute stance that the PFD be based on the existing statutory formula was a worthy goal. But this goal has collided with political reality.
In order to protect individual rights and prevent the accumulation of political power to the determent of every citizen, the Alaska Constitution separates authority for governmental action between different branches of government. The governor of Alaska can propose spending but ultimately the legislature disposes of spending via appropriations, after which the Governor can reduce spending but with no ability to increase funding.
Given the separation of powers that defines our constitution, Gov. Dunleavy has tirelessly advanced the idea that each eligible Alaskan should obtain a full PFD according to the existing statutory formula.
But payment of the PFD is conditioned on an appropriation each year. This year, the Legislature balked at making the full statutory PFD payment and instead appropriated $1,600, an amount that is somewhat arbitrary but constitutional.
Gov. Dunleavy deserves a lot of credit that $1,600 was appropriated for the PFD. Without Dunleavy’s relentless advocacy, the amount for the PFD certainly would have been smaller.
So, what happens next, now that the appropriation bill, including the $1,600 for the PFD, has been transmitted to the governor for review?
A rump group of citizens are demanding the governor veto the $1,600 PFD appropriation and hold out for the full statutory amount. I for one think this is a misguided effort.
If the governor heeds the call to veto the funding for the PFD at the $1,600 level and hold out for a larger sum, the predictable outcome will be no PFD for anyone this year. The harm to individuals and the Alaska economy that follow from having no PFD are obvious and catastrophic.
What the Governor ought to do, in the circumstance, is evaluate the spending measures recently transmitted to him by the legislature and make targeted cuts designed to increase the efficiency of our state government. What he should not do is veto the PFD appropriation.
Instead, after the governor has completed his constitutional review of the spending measures and made his reductions or vetoes while leaving the partial PFD appropriation intact, he should call another special legislative session.
In the next special session, Gov. Dunleavy should work with the Legislature to top up the shortened PFD and also adopt a resolution that puts an acceptable constitutional amendment before the voters calling for a fair and equitable PFD distribution each year. Then and only then will the citizens of Alaska and our elected and appointed officials have the certainty to build a sustainable annual budget and get on with advancing the interests of this wonderful state.
We Alaskans need certainty and predictability when it comes to the PFD.
Alaska has an excellent constitution. And we were wise to amend the constitution to allow for the Permanent Fund.
Now the time has come for the governor and the legislature to work cooperatively on behalf of the Alaska citizens to put the manner in which the PFD is paid in the Alaska Constitution.
Working together, payment of the full PFD this year is possible along with settling on a constitutional amendment that will be voted on by the people next year.
Joe Geldhof is an attorney who lives in Juneau. Geldhof is a Board Member of the Permanent Fund Defenders. The views expressed in this column represent his personal opinion.