Sand moves fast through hourglass as Legislature high centers on budget, PFD - Must Read Alaska
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Tuesday, September 28, 2021
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Sand moves fast through hourglass as Legislature high centers on budget, PFD

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The Alaska Legislature is into the autumn of its 30-day special session and there seems to be little movement on the big pieces of legislation that should have been accomplished in the 90-day session, or even the 120-day session.

The regular extended session ended May 19. The first special session called by the governor this year ends on June 18.

Here’s what still hasn’t been done: There is no Operating Budget, the Mental Health Budget, the Capital Budget, the Permanent Fund Dividend. In other words, the funding of government for the year starting July 1 has not been decided since Jan. 19’s opening gavel.

That’s 139 days of legislating and no budgets to show for it. None.

It gets down to fighting over dollars, of course, but ultimately, it all hinges on what what Legislature plans to do with Alaskans’ Permanent Fund dividend this year.

The Permanent Fund dividend is a question that has vexed the Legislature since 2016, when Gov. Walker took half of the dividend and then proved, through a court decision, that it was merely an appropriation, not a royalty, as it had been envisioned by the Permanent Fund founders. Walker’s handling of the dividend was a major part of the public turning against him, as they also did against Sen. Cathy Giessel and Sen. John Coghill, and more than a few House members who didn’t solve the structural problem.

Appropriations are fought over year after year, and this year the fight looks more protracted than ever.

Here are some numbers to watch:

Zero: The amount the Alaska House of Representatives has appropriated for the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. The House Majority tried for $500, but it was “no deal” from the Republican minority. They were not going to have a vote for a $500 dividend on their voting record.

$2,350: The amount the Alaska Senate has appropriated for the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. This is roughly equal to the 50-50 split the governor has asked for in his constitutional amendment legislation, and he says he can live with that if the people can only be allowed to vote on SJR 6.

$1,000: The approximate amount that the dividend could be this year and not be in violation of the spending cap provided in SB 26, which creates a Percent of Market Value draw on the Earnings Reserve Account.

$81 billion: The balance of the Alaska Permanent Fund.

$18.3 billion: The amount in the Alaska Permanent Fund’s Earnings Reserve Account.

11: The number of Alaska State senators needed to agree to the Conference Committee compromise on the budgets and the dividend.

50-50: The governor’s proposal in SJR 6 to return to the formula that was historic, where half of a five-year rolling average of the fund’s annual investment income was dedicated to dividends for the people, and the rest could be used for government or reinvested into the principle.

That last number is key: If the Senate already had 11 senators in agreement, they’d have a deal struck, and the conference committee and rest of the Legislature would be heading home. But it’s apparent they don’t have 11 senators. There are those on both sides of the political fulcrum who want Alaskans to have a full PFD or at least a constitutional question on the ballot. And there are those who are philosophically opposed to the dividend altogether and want it as small as possible.

Conference Committee Chairs Sen. Bert Stedman and Rep. Neal Foster are trying to run out the clock a bit more and start the panic journalism machine going about government shutdowns, counting on the media to blame the governor and blame the Republicans for having no budget.

The conference committee also doesn’t want other legislators in Juneau, and most are, in fact, not there right now, since they would have to pay for their own room and board. The Legislature passed a law a couple of years ago saying if they don’t pass a budget, they can’t take per diem during special session.

It’s worth noting that those on the conference committee don’t need the legislative per diem — they are all pretty well off. They also don’t want all the other legislators in Juneau because idle hands get into mischief and bored legislators could make all sorts of trouble for leadership. Like a coup in the House, where Speaker Louise Stutes spends more time “at easing” than leading.

This week, there’s a meeting of the House Finance Committee. There’s a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee. And there is a clock ticking on all the functions of government:

  • HB 69, Operating Budget
  • HB 70 or SB 50: Capital Budget
  • HB 71: Mental Health Budget
  • HB 72, SB 52: Permanent Fund dividend
  • HJR 7 or SJR 6: Governor’s proposal to ask voters to decide if Permanent Fund dividend should be in constitution.
  • In other words, the only job the Legislature has, other than voting on gubernatorial appointments, is not done.

The leaders in the Legislature appear to want to kick the PFD can down the road to August, when there will be yet another special session. They don’t appear to want to give up 50 percent of the eligible earnings of the Permanent Fund, nor do they want Alaskans to be able to vote on it because they know how Alaskans will vote, if given the chance.

This puts Sen. Bert Stedman in an awkward position. After all, he was the one who proposed the 50-50 split in 2017 with SB 21, and it was then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy who supported his proposal and helped him move it.

Now Stedman has the chance to move his own proposal forward. Does Stedman have the courage to champion the 50-50 in 2021 as he did in 2017? Time will tell, but time is moving faster than ever with 11 days to go in the special session and three weeks until state government ceases to exist.

Read Gov. Mike Dunleavy: If we’re going to save the dividend, this is the year

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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

  • Excellent summary, Suzanne. I am appalled at the lack of action by the legislature. The Mental Health Budget is for Dependents who rely on the care provided by recipient agencies. What are we doing other than making an already difficult period of worry and fear worse.

  • Shut it down – we might save some money… We can then maybe start reducing overly-generous salary and benefits packages for State employees. A statistic published on this website astounded me – the AVERAGE Anchorage municipal employee makes more than me – and I’m the highest paid nationally in my profession – and the average State worker even more. High government wages contribute to inflation which private employers and their employees can’t compete with. This has the effect of increasing the power of the bureaucracy and impoverishing the rest of us. This is not a “fair” deal unless you are one of the too-many government employees.

  • Many of the new senators and representatives ran their campaigns on a fully-funded, statutory dividend theme. They better stay focused on this promise to the electorate, or they will end up on the chopping block as did Giessel, Coghill and the corrupt, disgraced, former governor Bill Walker.

  • Of course they want to kick the can down the road. That and hold their finger to the wind is what politicians do. I would like a ballot issue stating that if they fail to complete essential business by end of regular session they get no pay for special session. Or maybe that if they fail essential duties they are fired (like in a business) and prevented from ever running for office again. Sadly people often deserve the government they get and our useless media has kept enough voters essentially uninformed that we are stuck with ours. Thanks Suzanne for ferreting out the facts.

    • Your usual gibberish AK. You have no clue how government works. Educate yourself.

  • Bert Stedman is the dictionary definition of a RINO… Right there next to Lisa, Kelly Merrick, and Stutes

  • Since our legislators cannot afford to be in Juneau to at least make us think they’re doing the job they were elected to do it seems like the perfect time for Governor Dunleavy to call them all to the road system for the remainder of this special session or at least the August Special Session.
    I understand Wasilla is beautiful this time of year.

  • Their position is to Stonewall and try to make the governor look bad. The Democrats and rinos led by Bryce Edgmon were unsuccessful on their promised recall, so their next agenda is to do nothing and try to wait out Mike that way. There needs to be at 2-term limit in the legislature. They need to be put out to pasture because all they’re doing is hurting Alaska. They are as worthless as tits on a boar hog.

  • Suzanne, you left out the Reverse Sweep. To my knowledge that has yet to be done. Also, how did you arrive at $1,000 as the amount we can afford without overdrawing the POMV? Obviously oil prices have recovered and the Permanent Fund is on a tear with soaring stock values but I have not seen an actual accounting calculation. And with $18 Billion in the PFER, could we PLEASE start to re-fund the CBR? It’s in the Alaska Constitution for criminy sake!

  • Vote them all out, that don’t support a full PFD
    Just like Cathy Giessel and her gang.
    Vote these losers Out.
    Again it’s our money. I know how to spend my own share of the PFD, not the government

  • Click Bishop is our Senator and has not bothered to answer our emails.

  • Stedman — can’t believe he was voted in again.

  • Bill Yankee, obviously you believe in worship of the almighty infallible government. I, on the other hand, believe as the Founders that elected officials work for us to represent us, and the current crop has failed miserably to the American people and should all be fired. But again, I’m based upon the writings of the Forefathers and the Constitution, not hysterical ‘feelings’ to ‘give a thrill up the leg’. Rainbow Bright and Sprite were fine for four year old little girls but adults should base decisions on reality.

    • Our legislature operates similarly to US and just as the overall US is made up of folks of all stripes so is Alaska and the representatives they elect don’t always get along but do understand what’s at stake IMO. You want something (who knows what?) and when you don’t get it you think the whole crop should be fired.
      You are nothing but a joke and just spout off from the lip with gibberish most of the time.
      I suspect you are going to be a miserable SOB for some years.

  • Old Click doesn’t know if he’s a Democrat or a Republican. Maybe he can’t do email.

  • BILL YANKEE, sorry to disappoint you but I’m not miserable at all. I did study history, however (and am descended from the emperor Gordian and had many other ancestors executed by other corrupt emperors). I just want for my children to enjoy the liberty and prosperity that my and my parents’ generations squandered away. In history as in modern times, corruption is the bane of good governance. Our government was meant to be of the people, not of professional do-gooders arbitrarily deciding what they think best for ‘the people’.
    At the state level (and largely federal) good governance has given way to partisan bickering, profiteering, and pilfering of the public trough. They should (mostly) all be fired and replaced by responsible citizens. You must largely follow Plato, whose policies have always failed, while I follow Aristotle, whose policies lead to liberty for the masses. The only thing so far in which you have failed is to scream RACIST!, the last gasp of a progressive. To that I would chuckle even more.

    • Just more gibberish tripe AK.
      Some think term limits would solve some of your considered problems-myself am opposed as without Pelosi we certainly would be bowing down to dictator Trump. Heheh!

  • BILL YANKEE, I’m so sorry. I guess that I suspected, but now am confirmed that you are touched. Prolly too much lead as a child. Thankfully The Donald saved the nation from the end times, and we might even survive until the downfall of San Fran Nan and sanity returns. I hear that he might run for congress to replace her in 2022!

  • Pretty funny AK. Your “end times” really says it all.
    Keep em coming-we need the laughs.

  • AK, Yankee knows all that he’s just tugging on your strings. He knows that Trump was doing a whole bunch of stuff right and that’s what pissed off the communist and socialist in our country. He did it too good. He made them look bad. I saw a pole the other day about who was the worst president in our nation’s history, and Jimmy Carter Barack Obama and Bill Clinton we’re all at the bottom of the list meaning they were the worst we ever had so with a record like that you can see that the elitists want to try to change history. These idiots on here while they are entertaining serve no purpose rather than push along the conversation. Pay them no mind.

    • You are a riot Greg and it was likely a “pole” that you saw as that’s the only way anything is going to show Trump anywhere but the bottom. Heheh!

  • Greg Forkner, you know, I look forward to Bill Yankee comments most of all. I somehow hold on to this dream of educating the uneducated. Everyone must be something in life, I was taught to try to not be the bad example for everyone else to learn from. We can all learn a lot from Bill Yankee.

  • “These,…are the days of our lives…”

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