By JIM CRAWFORD
Given the passage of Ballot Measure 2 last year, which gave us the insanity of rank choice voting, the safe world that Alaska voters knew, exploded.
Going from a partisan primary, which identified conservatives and liberals to the public, to a completely nonpartisan primary race where no one can really tell who is what, is at least a sea change. The new system leaves many voters adrift without their rudders and anchors, depending upon candidates to provide truthful information on their history and their current stands on issues.
Most important to Alaskans is the formulation and implementation of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. It is the capitalization of the private sector in Alaska and the reward for our savings plan. You could call it Alaskans retirement fund.
The good news is that each qualified Alaskan will receive $3,200 this year. The bad news is the Legislature’s majorities refused to change the statute, which requires 50% of the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund to be paid in a dividend to its owners. Each Alaskan who qualifies for the dividend and intends to remain in Alaska should be an advocate for protecting the dividend. The polls prove that high-water mark.
The refusal of incumbents or challengers to be advocates for the people’s dividend is the new benchmark which should be used by voters to judge for whom to vote. Is it a misrepresentation to tell the voters that you will be an advocate for a full dividend, and then vote to not provide the funds to do so? Don’t forget that we have a $3.2 billion surplus this budget year.
Those of us fortunate enough to have served with Gov. Jay Hammond, the father of the Alaska Permanent Fund, remember his purpose in establishing the dividend. He wanted to build a system of political support to keep the ever greedy from raiding the fund through appropriations.
Politics and particularly partisan politics have a bad reputation. But in my decades as an officer of the Alaska Republican Party, I’ve learned that the partisan advocacy works well for most people. For example, most Republicans qualify as being conservatives either social or fiscal conservatives or both.
Most Democrats are liberal, either moderates or extremes. As former president of Permanent Fund Defenders, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group, I established a new personal constraint for whom receives my vote: I won’t vote for a candidate who advocates or votes for a budget that does not contain at least 50% of earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund.
The purpose of the dividend then and now is to grow the private sector and private jobs. The public sector, as illustrated by the Alaska National Education Association, has enough from the public purse. Alaska education funding is a great example of Legislative excess. The NEA in the last session of the Legislature obtained funding to fill the total Fiscal Year 2023-year budget of $4.528 billion dollars. Then the Legislature voted to extend full funding of Fiscal Year 2024 operating and capital budgets for each year.
How’s that for political juice? School debt reimbursement from prior years was also appropriated to the tune of $425 million.
The Higher Education Investment Fund was also authorized to capitalize $395 million and establish one more unconstitutional dedicated fund. Our kids test 49th out of 50 in the nation in reading and math scores, while the Legislators increased the formulae funding for FY 2024 by another $30 million. I am not anti-education, but I do think that spending should be directly accountable with achievement and results with our kids.
Some legislators want to put 100% of Permanent Fund earnings into state government. They made major progress in the last Legislature. Fortunately, Gov. Mike Dunleavy insisted upon a higher dividend and supplemented that request with an energy allowance for each Alaskan. But the reward for Alaskans in our Permanent Fund frugality has been stolen, a piece at a time, by those legislators who will never support the statutory approach to calculating the dividend.
The original statute was based upon earnings of the Permanent Fund. Last year, the Alaska Permanent Fund made a profit of $19.2 billion which should result in an increase in your dividend for the next five years. It didn’t and won’t because of the change by legislators who gave us the “Percent of Market Value,” (POMV) value calculation to the fund and its dividend.
Then they have the audacity to claim we’re overspending if we pay the full dividend. Instead, we got legislative majorities that gave the General Fund a $1.5 billion raise, while reducing the amount of the dividend. Our collective job is to determine who these charlatans are and remove them from office.
When a legislator openly violates the statutes of the state, they should be removed from office. The statute that governs dividends can be amended by a majority of legislators. The dividend statute was not been amended since that would establish a clear and probable cause for removal by voters. What we’re left with is catching legislators in a lie. They advocate for the people’s dividend at the statutory level during their campaigns, then vote our dividend during the legislative session.
In the last set of elections, we removed nine incumbents of the House and Senate who were caught lying or were philosophically misaligned with the voters’ demand for a full dividend from the people’s fund. That’s half the job.
This year we need to continue to clean House (and Senate) from those who oppose what is best for Alaskans.
Jim Crawford is the former President of Permanent Fund Defenders, pfdak.com, an Alaska based educational nonprofit corporation. 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.