Permanent Fund vote passes, governor takes credit - Must Read Alaska
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Saturday, September 26, 2020
HomePoliticsPermanent Fund vote passes, governor takes credit

Permanent Fund vote passes, governor takes credit

Both House and Senate today approved Senate Bill 26, limiting the use of the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings, while using a rules-based portion of the fund for government services, and ensuring qualifying Alaskans a dividend.

The House voted 23-17, and the Senate 13-6 to concur with the substitute version developed in conference committee.

Gov. Bill Walker issued an immediate press release declaring victory, although SB 26 had been changed substantially from the version he introduced last year. It is still a rules-based approach to tapping the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account, and he indicated he will sign the bill. He sat in the House gallery as debate occurred before the final vote was taken.

Gov. Bill Walker, far left, along with his chief of staff Scott Kendall, deputy chief of staff Grace Jang (hidden), Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux in green, and Revenue Commission Sheldon Fisher, during an at-ease in the Alaska House of Representatives, prior to the vote on SB 26.

 

A sticking point for some Alaskans is the change from a simple word — “shall” to “may,” referring to how the Permanent Fund dividend is calculated. The word “may” was dropped from the final version.

But in fact, after the legal case brought by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, the State Supreme Court has already decided that the dividend is and always has been subject to appropriation, and so the wording simply reflects that reality, some senators said.

“Failure to act would have jeopardized the survival of the dividend,” said Sen. Hoffman of Bethel, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “This bill establishes a responsible draw from the earnings reserve to preserve the dividend program, while helping fill our budget gap during these difficult fiscal times.”

The bill adopts an endowment management approach and caps the amount of money legislators may withdraw each year from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account, keeping the original dividend formula intact.

The Permanent Fund Board of Trustees has asked for this rules-based approach for over a decade, to allow fund managers to make prudent decisions, be more nimble, and get greater returns on investments. Without such a rules-based approach, the fund was forced into shorter term, more risk-averse decisions.

SB 26 limits, for three years, the annual draw from the Permanent Fund to 5.25 percent of the fund’s market value for five of the last six fiscal years (effectively 4.35 percent this year).

The Permanent Fund Corporation says this rate of drawdown is sustainable. After three years, the draw decreases to 5 percent.

The law allows lawmakers on an annual basis to decide how that drawdown is split between the dividend program and government spending.

Using the original formula, 2018’s dividend would have been $2,700 this year, but was reduced to $1,600 through earlier legislation. But by leaving the formula in place, future lawmakers could fully fund the dividend according to the original formula when the fiscal outlook gets better or when a new governor takes office.

ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES

Many well-intentioned conservative voters may have voted for Bill Walker in 2014 because he promised to cut government spending right away and not take away the people’s dividends.

But Walker has been unwilling to use his veto pen for anything other than the dividend itself and tax credits to small oil exploration companies, both of which have been harmful to the economy.

Must Read Alaska reached out to thought leaders in the Senate and learned that for Senate Republicans, at least, the hope is that voters will send a conservative governor to Juneau who will actually use his veto pen next year, and that voters will also restore the House to Republican leadership.

With SB 26, some conservative legislators are looking at it as a temporary crisis, while in the future, the dividend could go back to the traditional formula when the state comes under “new management.”

Over in the House, this is an election year, and cutting the dividend is not popular with many conservative voters. The vote today will send about $2.7 billion into the State’s general fund.

The House votes crossed the political spectrum, with Rep. Harriet Drummond, one of the hardest left of the Democrats voting the same way as Rep. David Eastman, who anchors the far right:

DIVIDEND THROUGH THE YEARS

Established in 1976 after oil started flowing through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, Alaskans voted to amend the state constitution to set aside a share of oil revenues in a sovereign wealth fund that would help pay for government in the future.  Later, after the Fund was established, the dividend program was added as a way to share oil wealth with Alaskans and protect the Fund itself from irresponsible spending schemes.

The largest dividend was in 2015 at $2,072 and the smallest was in 1984 at $331.29. It has historically been based on a five-year average of the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings performance.

 

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • I am soooo sick of their lying faces!! A bunch of greedy thieves who don’t care about how their actions hurt the rest of us!! All those who voted for this need to be voted OUT of office.

    • I agree 100%

  • The next to last paragraph of this article is misleading. While Alaska voters in 1976 approved a change to the State Constitution to provide for the Permanent Fund, the dividend was created pursuant to an Act of the Legislature – an ordinary statute – in 1980. The 1996 Constitutional Amendment says nothing about a dividend. It provides that “All income from the Permanent Fund shall be deposited in the general fund unless otherwise provided by law.” Thus, all the income from the Permanent Fund has been and will remain available for appropriation by the Legislature unless and until the Constitutional provision is changed.

    Certainly, the dividend has become an expectation for most Alaskans, but that hope cannot change the law. Some, in particular, Anchorage resident Jim Crawford, would like to enshrine the dividend in the Constitution, but that has not happened yet.

    • The second sentence should read: “The 1976 Constitutional Amendment…” Time flies.

  • The list of so called Republicans that should have protected the PFD are Knopp, Millett, Pruitt, Talerico, Thompson…ALL turn coats on the People! With their help the government screws us Alaskans…remove them all!

  • Sorry I missed one snake Kopp all of them supposedly in the minority HA !

  • Consider any legislator who voted for this budget will probably be voting for Walker in November. They definitely like packing his water.

  • It doesn’t matter who is in the Governor’s Mansion as long as this complicit go-along bunch of so-called Fiscal Conservatives in the Senate remain in charge. We voted the likes of MacKinnon and Giessel and Micciche and Meyers into office over the years to wrestle control of the Senate from the Dems leading the Bi Partisan Anti-Work Coalition, only to have them turn their backs on us.

    The only thing these liars have done is create new statutory pots of money to spread the spending through, all the while coming to us and asking for our campaign donations and our votes with ginned-up spreadsheets proclaiming “We’ve cut spending, see!!??” But no spending has been cut, unless you count the capital budget, and the Operating Budget continues to grow. And now they’ve begun to unravel the golden fleece. There will be no stopping them. In less then a decade the Dividend will be completely gone, and they’ll be taxing us, telling us we’re getting a pretty good deal.

    There are exactly two fiscally conservative (read responsible) Legislators that have been sent to Juneau in the past decade, and they were both ejected from their respective majority caucuses because they called the majority on their lies: Senator Michael Dunleavy and Representative Lora Reinbold. I greatly look forward to seeing Governor Dunleavy sworn in this December. I’d like to say Speaker Reinbold, but I’m not confident that with the Administration stacking the deck against Republicans, control in the House can be wrestled from Democrats.

  • Oil did not start flowing in TAPS in 1976.

    To be exact oil started flowing approximately at 9:00AM on June 20, 1977.

    There was a leak in one set of flanges in Pump #1 and it had to shut down and restarted at 10:25 AM.

    Very embarrassing for all that were there – red faces all around.

  • RINO Walker, hopefully now our ex-Governor, Promised not to touch the Permanent Fund. Governor Tony Knowles had the decency to recognise a referendum vote was needed to gain approval by the people. He was given a resounding NO vote of 82%.
    We need to make the 1980 law a constitutional amendment and rescind the 1996 constitutional amendment. No monies from the fund should ever be placed into the State’s funds unless via the purchase of 10 year AK Tax exempt State Bonds @10%. Thus the money would remain invested by the fund at 10% With 0fver $6 Billion still remaining in the states constitutional budget reserve fund this whole fiasco was totally unnecessary.

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