Jim Crawford: Our Permanent Fund dividend, Alaska Legislature, and the need for a constitutional convention

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By JIM CRAWFORD

When you make a deposit at First National Bank of Alaska or Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, whose money did you deposit?  It’s a simple concept but a foundational principle of the Alaska Permanent Fund.  

The answer is, was and always will be: It’s your money.  

If you put money into a 401K with WellsFargo, or retirement fund with UBS, whose money, is it?  For your convenience, you can have an expert manage your money for you, but it is your money and no one else’s.  

If Grandma and Pop give your kids $100 for Christmas and they put it in a savings account, whose money, is it? Once the check is deposited and cleared, the money held in trust is unquestionably for your kids benefit as the legal owner of the funds. In my house that required parental approval.    

Can Grandma and Pop or parents demand that kids spend it on books? Sure, anyone can make a demand and most times grandparents get away with it. That’s a family decision, not a decision by the financial institution that holds the money. 

The Legislature manages the Alaska Permanent Fund. Family decisions are not within the purview of the Permanent Fund dividend. The Board of Trustees of the Fund make it abundantly clear that their job is to earn the best return they can on our behalf. They don’t get to set the amount or the method of payment for our dividend. That’s the Legislators job subject to the approval of the people.

I know there are reasons why Legislators such as Sen. Josh Revak and former Sen. Cathy Giessel promise one thing in campaigns and vote the other way when they are elected. They hope you may not remember their sleight of hand. Another deceit is to redefine the argument that the dividend must be sustainable. 

Sustainable in some scattered minds means that the Permanent Fund must pay a larger dividend each year. That’s not what was agreed to with Gov. Jay Hammond. Under his guidance, the dividend was tied to the earnings of the Permanent Fund and split 50/50 with the owners of the fund, who are the Alaskan people. Yes, this could mean that people could get a smaller dividend than prior years. If could also mean that those whose job it is to maximize earnings could be looking for another job.  

When Gov. Bill Walker was in office, he and a majority of Legislators cooked the books to get control of the dividend. They got Judge Morris to say that the fund’s dividend we all earned when we set aside the fund as non-spendable was just like any other appropriation. The Alaska Supreme Court completed the raid and sided with Gove. Walker and the majority in the Legislature that the dividend was theirs alone to appropriate. The court ruled that the dividend wasn’t hampered by the statute the Legislature had passed setting the formulae for dividend payments.  

Since then, ever more greedy majorities in both houses of the Legislature have exercised their “crumbs strategy.”  The “crumbs strategy” determines first what the Legislature wants to spend on government. Then whatever is left, (the crumbs) to be paid to fund owners.  

I like the discipline of the 50/50 rule (after inflation proofing) since it brings transparency, accountability and sustainability to the process of setting the dividend. Some legislators hate it. Even in a bad earnings year (whether it’s in a Simple IRA or the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend), earnings should determine the dividend, not raw political power. 

Legislators have come up with ways to discount redefined earnings and set artificial caps on Fund earnings, the POMV that can’t be exceeded. We set aside the money for a rainy day. Reality check. Inflation is surging, politicians want to shut down Alaska’s energy industry.  Alaska has a declining population, a recession and a pandemic. It’s pouring. Let’s get these phony arguments over the dividend behind us.  Building jobs back in our non-government economy is more important than spending more money on government every year.

Jay Hammond’s approach to fairly set the 50/50 dividend worked for 40 years and could work for another 40 years.  The politicos have to understand how tired Alaskans are with all the arguing about the dividend. If you agree that it’s our money and agree that we are capable of spending our earnings just as well as legislators, please advise your Legislator. Vote against those representatives and senators who vote against you in Juneau.  

A constitutional convention may well be the only method for settling the dividend issue. In a constitutional convention, we can simply redefine dividends in the Constitution as 50% of the earnings of the fund after inflation proofing. The economy will be stronger. Families in Alaska will be strengthened. The people of Alaska will win. As they should. It is the people’s money.   

Jim Crawford is the former President of Permanent Fund Defenders, pfdak.com, an Alaska based educational nonprofit corporation based in Eagle River, Alaska.  Jim is a third generation, lifelong Alaskan who co-chaired the Alaskans Just Say No campaign to stop the raid on the Permanent Fund in 1999.  He also served Governor Hammond as a member of the Investment Advisory Committee which formed the investment and corporate strategy of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation in 1975.   

37 COMMENTS

  1. I will vote for it as long as there are two stipulations. 1. No one who is a delegate of the convention has been, and or a member or any affiliation with any union. 2. No one who is a delegate of the convention has ever ran for or held a elected position in government. If the convention cannot put this verbage into the proposition, will be met with a No vote. The convention needs to be led and managed by honest citizens willing to perform their civic duty.

    • Be realistic. The delegates will be chosen by Dominion Voting Machines, by the same collection of RINO and Democrat voters who consistently elect a Leftist legislature. Do you really want to open that can of worms?

    • Another reality check: in 1955, there was an effort to prevent sitting members of the legislature from serving as convention delegates. That failed. I’ve read sentiments similar to yours elsewhere. Do you believe that such stipulations won’t be decided by a judge and what you propose will pass legal muster? Keep dreaming. Here’s a more recent and relevant example. Remember the Conference of Alaskans convened by Gov. Murkowski in 2004? Mark Neuman’s introduction, where he described himself as the only ordinary person among the 55 delegates, emerged as the only memorable thing about that event. Later that year, he was elected to the legislature, defeating an incumbent who was damaged by being viewed as too cozy with the establishment in Juneau. Fast forward to the last few years and the same scenario occurred, this time leading to Neuman’s departure from office. Where do you think you’ll find “honest citizens willing to perform their civic duty” when we have a system which turns such people into swamp monsters once they get a taste of power?

  2. A constitutional convention would be nice.. However.. I do not trust the “delegates” (back stabbers) that would be picked to represent the people (corporations and unions). Once it’s open, anything can be changed for whatever reason and we would have to adhere and obey.

    Petition would be best to fix the problems we are having. Just like the weed folks and their legalization, holding the politicians feet to the fire with petition laws work better. They have no recourse but to follow them.

    • If the RINOs, Unions, and Socialists get ahold of the convention, they will likely write a new constitution which redirects all PFD dollars to government services. Throwing out the entire constitution would be a disaster for conservatives

    • See above Fritz, no politicians, union associates or corporate heads. If the convention cannot promise none of these people as delegates, your cause is lost. Plain and simple

  3. Hell no to a constitutional convention! Don’t fall for a complete rewrite of the Alaska Constitution by believing they will enshrine the PFD. They can do that by a Constitutional Amendment, they want to rewrite the whole constitution to destroy one of the best state constitutions in the nation, what else will they change?

    • In the past 50 years I have always been against a convention but now I see it as the only possible way to fix the problems we are currently facing. We can fix the dividend permanently, get rid of ranked choice and Mail in voting other than absentee voting, guarantee voter ID and signature verification and maybe get our mineral rights back. The people will still get to vote on whatever comes out of a convention.

        • David great summary of what we need changed by convention. I would also have to add term limits to all elected seats, the end of per diem for the legislature. All a pipe dream as the delegates these days are seriously compromised. Lucinda, are you a economic refugee, new to Alaska? If so leave your failed Blue policies back where you came from.

      • It’s shameful in a representative government for any citizen in any party to make a priority out of limiting voter participation. The more who vote the stronger we are. That particular “we” is the sacred “we the people”. Related to voter turn out,, that “we” comes before all partisan goals lest unamericanism strike you down.

        • Our justice system is designed to say, “it’s better to let criminals go free than to imprison an innocent person”

          Voting is the same, it’s far better to let fraud ballots be counted than to deny a single American their legitimate vote.

          Yell can’t argue, this is America 101 and tall got lost. Seriously lost.

          • Doofuss, again, you chose your name here wisely.
            .
            It is beyond contemptible, and outrageous, how all you radical leftist extremists will go to ANY extent to undermine the integrity of elections in this country. And nobody has been “denied their legitimate vote” in this country for half a century — what YOU seek, and advocate, is for the mass participation of ILLEGAL ALIENS, and the profoundly ignorant and lazy, in elections, none of what advance any kind of sensible, moral or legitimate political measures.
            .

  4. Great article. Excellent description of events- only thing missing are Imhoff telling Giessel she will never be Governor unless she plays ball and protects her family’s end of the PFD by taking it from the people, and a similar conversation Giessel then had with Revak when he was up for the appointment to the open Senate seat. Other than that, it’s a clear, concise, accurate recounting of the history of the single most corrupt act in Alaskan political history…Frank the Tank appointing his daughter princess Lisa to his OWN DAMN SEAT taking a razor close second…

    These clowns are so despicably corrupt you can’t even make this stuff up. Whatever feckless, sellout, backstabbing move you think up, this cast of characters will have beat in reality. Truly this is the worst legislature in the country.

  5. There will be no Constitutional Convention. There should be, but won’t.

    Too many conservatives will want everything just their way or they won’t participate. This opens the door to the Giessel faction to stop it cold.

    Conservatives don’t bother to vote. Why expect them to support this?

  6. In this woke age, it would be best not to support a constitutional convention. They can re-write it to meet the needs of the few. Is our states perfect, no but it has been working for over 50 years. With the snakes in the office we could predict out outcome for the worse. They can re-write the formula that is not being used and make the earnings distributed even less, with no mineral rights. Please vote No.

  7. It has been established that by your continued vote, or not willing to vote, that the crooks who pretend to represent you have found better uses of your PFDs, and have established a means to do so. So kiss it goodbye and embrace the new ways. Soon, they will outspend the fund and we will be paying taxes as well. But in step with the Bidden administration, nobody will be required to work either. So free money for everyone. Just disable yourself and jump on board. Only us stupid people will continue to work so we can support you all. But small business will cease to exist. So enjoy your industrial food. Giddy up.

  8. None of your business is an example of the fearful and gullible. The constitutional convention will only recommend changes to the Constitution, each one of which must be voted on by the people. Our legislators have already made it clear that they don’t want us to be able to vote on a PFD amendment. The choice is clear, if you want the people to control the government, vote for the constitutional convention, if you want the government to control the people, vote against the constitutional convention.

  9. Section 4 of the Alaska Constitution should cause everyone to take a serious amount of time while considering voting for or against. “Constitutional conventions shall have plenary power to amend or revise the constitution, subject only to ratification by the people. No call for a constitutional convention shall limit these powers of the convention.” If those calling for a convention do not address this point they will never get the convention they so desire. At least try to convince us that the possibility of blowing it all up is worth the risk.

  10. Interesting how many people are already waffling. “It might get worse” they say.

    How can it get worse? Alaska is a socialist state ruled by a dishonest politburo. They lie to you, steal from you, hide from you, and are bound and determined to keep Alaska in a state of economic slavery.

    Yes, there is risk. Maybe a big risk. But what truly good thing ever came without risk?

    If a person or society never takes risks, they’re not truly living. Just droning on and on til they die.

    It’s time to put on your big boy pants Alaska. Stand for something.

  11. Perhaps Crawford can document when and where Hammond actually said the dividend should be a 50/50 split? What Hammond wanted was disbursement based on how many years you lived in Alaska which was ruled not Constitutional. Since most people in Alaska were not here, or born when Hammond was Governor probably believe Crawford’s BS because who does not like a check every year for just living here?

  12. Here is something that I never noticed before. Did you know the issue of the PFD is not noted specifically as a plank for the Alaska Republican Party? The PFD is simply not there.

    Despite that, many Republican candidates use the support of the PFD as a major campaign point and the issue is often brought up when considering candidates for endorsement. Adherence to The Alaskan Republican Party’s planks is a major determiner for endorsement or leveling sanctions.

    How could it not be there considering all the air it sucks up? Or at least noted in an indirect way such as requiring support to repeal of SB26? The PFD, set as an expenditure independent of legislative appropriation, using responsible formulas, is a good, conservative program.

    I understand it has been brought up at past Republican Conventions…motions to add support of the PFD to the Republican Party Planks. But that’s been controversial so it’s never made it in as a plank.

    That needs to change. I think it needs to be there. Specifically. In some form.

    It’s the elephant in the room. Take a stand.

    Or, though I’d oppose this, shoot the elephant. But in my opinion, shooting the PFD elephant would be shooting another well known elephant as well. But at least it would be transparent & honest. People could then choose their political affiliations appropriately.

  13. Give me my full dividend render to Caesar what is Caesars give to GOD what is GODs. Give Alaskans there full dividend checks so help you GOD you swore oath takers of Alaska. Full dividend checks

  14. I note that Mr. Crawford did not provide the precise language he proposes to add to our constitution. One suspects he has not engaged the issue at the word specific level needed for a serious review of his proposal. Nor an explanation of how his language achieves what why prior proposals did not. The topic is, I argue, one that has generated the most amendments of all sections of our Constitution. Do let us know why these have failed to achieve the desired result, and how Mr. Crawford’s will succeed.
    I strongly recommend one reads our short and simple Constitution and the 40 some proposed smendments. Changes to the Constitution are required to undergo review and approval either 1) by the Legislature in the constitutionally defined Amendment process, or 2) the various committees in the Convention process. But again, do read the Constitution.
    Article XIII, Sec 3, requires delegates to the convention to be elected in a Statewide vote, similar to the original Convention “Call.” Or as established by law (which means “by the Legislature”).
    Sec. 4 requires that a Constitutional convention will have power to rewrite every part of the Constitution. It prohibits any limit to these powers. A Convention is a total rewrite of the Constitution.
    Know of any “woke” language the left would like to add to our Constitution? Do you plan to take a year or so away from your livelihood to attend a Convention?
    So do read the entire Constitution. And read the notes provided by the delegates in each of the many committees where they explained the intent of the language they proposed. Read how the wording changed as it underwent review and discussion in committee and when brought to the floor of the Convention. It’s all available. A few clicks away.
    And if you have a good idea, please put it in words and offer it for broad review. Let others explain to you what your words mean in their eyes. It is an invaluable experience.
    If, like Mr Crawford’s proposal, your idea involves only one or two articles or sections of the Constitutional, then it obviously is much easier to achieve through the Amendment process described in Article XIII, Sec. 1.
    Full disclosure: I’ve worked at drafting Constitutional Amendments. I had the benefit of working with one of the best, the late George Utermole.
    Words have meaning, and in English, can have several meanings. Strung together into phrases even an even greater set of interpretations may be construed.
    What I meant to say may not be what you think I meant, let alone what a court determines.
    I predict a vote to Call for a Convention will bring in vast sums of outside influence and funding. We will see proposals to introduce woke social and environmental language that puts resource utilization, hunting, and far more at risk.
    Lack of due diligence is not a reason to vote away the Alaskan lifestyle.

  15. We have a safe and cautious process to change the constitution, by amendment. Opening up the convention to the anti-science, anti-government, Christian grievance peddlers would doom our state. Gawd, we’d be like Kentucky or Florida or Texas.

  16. BTW: Delegates to a Constitutional Convention are selected by Statewide election. Doesn’t that mean they will be selected using our miserable Jungle primary and Ranked Choice Voting system?

  17. We should not put the PFD into the Alaska Constitution. We should not enshrine a free cash handout as a basic human right.
    .
    Jim Crawford’s article asks the question: “If you put money into a 401K with WellsFargo, or retirement fund with UBS, whose money, is it?”
    .
    Well, I agree that the money belongs to the person who deposited the money. But it is important to show the vast difference between a private money market account and the Alaska Permanent Fund.
    .
    In a money market account, I take a chunk of money that I “individually” own, and I deposit it into the money market account. The account specifically ties my name to that chunk of money. There is a written contract signed by me and the money market firm, that they will deliver earnings from my chunk of “individually” owed money, less a management fee for the money market company.
    .
    I have been an Alaskan for almost 50 years, but I have never deposited a penny into the Permanent Fund. I have no personal account or chunk of money in the Permanent Fund that has my name tied to it. There is no account that I can withdraw and put into my pocket.
    .
    I am a “collective” owner of the Permanent Fund along with 700,000 other Alaskans. If I move out of the state, my “collective” ownership “share” disappears in a puff of smoke. If I move out of state, my “individually” owned share in a private money-market, does not disappear.
    .
    As a “collective” owner of the Alaska state General Fund, Statutory Budget Reserve, Permanent Fund, and Constitutional Budget Reserve, I want all the earnings of those funds to be used for the benefit of Alaskans, whether in the form of free government services for Alaskans or free cash handouts for Alaskans. I don’t want any of it to be sent out to other countries, even if they are poor and have infrastructure needs.
    .
    A “dividend” is something that should be based on a surplus after basic service needs and bills have been taken care of.
    .
    If a free cash handout is put into the Alaska Constitution, it will morph from a true and honest “dividend”, into a “Universal Basic Income”. This is because wedging the PFD into the constitution will ultimately lead to the passage of a state income tax, which will result in hard working Alaskans having some of their money sucked away to pay for non-working citizens, including bums and drug abusers who will migrate to Alaska so as to live off of the government and its guaranteed cash handouts.

    • Mr. Griffin,
      All I can say is your logic is rank. I don’t think you have a real clue what the PF really is, let alone what the dividend is intended for. If you don’t like it, send it back. But don’t tell everyone else that they don’t deserve their portion of the pie.

      • Marco, I explain more about the PFD and the danger of sticking it into the Alaska Constitution at my website at pfdbudget dot com .
        .
        I do like the PFD. I have taken it when it first started in 1982, all the way up to 2014. But when the oil price crash occurred in 2014 and 2015, and the state was burdened with massive deficits, I felt it was immoral for me to pocket the money. So even though i have applied for the PFD from 2015 to 2022, and have received the paper checks in the mail, I have always mailed the uncashed checks back to the state. I also send a letter to the Department of Revenue explaining why I’m sending it back.

  18. What “appears” to be obvious here, is that everything Alaskans fear from a constitutional convention, is already being abused by the state legislature? The constitutional provision for such a convention, which would put Alaskan voters back in control, seems to be what legislators fear most? Are we being suckered away from the only option that could correct the situation?

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