PFD IS IN SEPARATE BILL AND IS NOW $1,605 PER ELIGIBLE ALASKAN
A bill that was originally intended to fund the Permanent Fund dividend ended up with no dividend at all, but added back $284 million in spending in the Operating Budget for the current Fiscal Year 2020
That means the cuts to the Operating Budget, once at $444 million through Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s vetoes, are much more modest.
With the House add-backs, spending reductions are just $160 million.
HB 2001 returns $110 million to the University of Alaska system, and $77 million for Medicaid. It also adds back $5 million for the Alaska Marine Highway System, and restores funds to public radio, the State Arts Council, Alaska Legal Services Corp., Alaska Seafood Marketing, myriad education programs and $20 million for the Senior Benefits Program, an entitlement for low- to moderate-income Alaskans over the age of 65.
The measure now goes to the Senate for its consideration. Must Read Alaska has learned the Senate is likely to accept the bill “as is.”
Members of the Republican House Minority said they felt double-crossed by the Democrat-led Majority, because they had agreed to put the full $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend in this bill, but when it got to the floor, it had no such provision.
The bill passed along caucus lines.
The House Democrat-led Majority has a new PFD bill, HB 2003, which moved out of Finance Committee and is in the third reading on the House floor. The funding source for the PFD is entirely decoupled from the oil revenues from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account.
Starting this year, if HB 2003 passes, the dividend will have to compete with government program spending, and in future years, it will not compete well, critics say. In fact, the dividend has already been cut by 53 percent from the statutory amount of $3,000 and is likely to get smaller and smaller, as legislators cannot control their appetite for spending.
HB 2001 and HB 2003 are almost metaphors for what is the big question: Shall government and university administrators get paid, or will the people receive their dividends? It’s become an us-vs-them debate in Alaska, between the working class and the professional class.
The argument that Gov. Dunleavy has repeated throughout his presentations in the past two years reflects what is happening in the Legislature this week: The dividend, if not paid according to statute — whatever that statutory amount is — will be gone in this decade.
Another concept heard around the Capitol in recent days is the term “PFD Holiday,” the idea that the Legislature may simply not pay the PFD for a year or more and characterize it as a time-out period. It’s a concept that has yet to be heard in the public arena.
Whether it’s half a dividend or a PFD Holiday, the current actions in the Legislature are likely to draw a referendum by PFD activists, which would appear on next year’s General Election ballot.