After a lengthy debate in the Alaska Senate on Wednesday night, it came down to a 10-10 vote, and thus a failure for a full Permanent Fund dividend this year. The amendment by Sen. Bill Wielechowski would have give qualifying Alaskans $3,400.
The debate lasted hours regarding various amounts and methods of funding the annual oil royalty dividend, but on this particular amendment, the debate was especially passionate.
Another amendment, giving people a $2,300 Permanent Fund dividend, passed, 12-8. An amendment to spend $1.5 billion from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account to pay for it the PFD passed, 11-9.
It is the largest Permanent Fund dividend in Alaska history.
The Permanent Fund dividend was one of the bigger bones of contention in the operating budget discussion as senators were running out the clock on the 121-day session.
House Bill 69 authorizes $4.43 billion in state unrestricted general funds for the upcoming fiscal year 2022 operating expenses and $274.6 million for next year’s capital budget, which leverages nearly $1.9 billion in federal funds for roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.
With more than $10 billion in the Permanent Fund’s spendable portion, senators voted to transfer $4 billion into the fund’s principal account, which cannot be spent without amending the state constitution.
“As we finalize the budgets, we look forward to working with the House and Governor over the summer to finally resolve Alaska’s multi-year fiscal challenge,” said Senate President Peter Micciche. “With a sustainable fiscal package, our state will attract new investment, grow our economy, and generate good paying jobs for Alaska families.”
“I think we’ve got a fine bill in front of us with a fine dividend for the people,” summarized Sen. Bert Stedman, co-chair of Finance, just prior to the final vote. “All told we did a good job. Shaved about $20 million off, all agencies. That’s the operating budget, basically been running flat.
The omnibus budget bill, including the Capital budget and $2,300 PFD, passed 17-3, with Sens. Scott Kawasaki, Donny Olson and Lora Reinbold voting against it.
The bill goes back to the House for a concurrence vote. Likely, the matter will instead be taken up in conference committee.
Special session begins Thursday to take up Senate Joint Resolution 6, which would ask Alaskans to decide on whether to put the Permanent Fund calculation into the Alaska Constitution or to allow it to continue to be a political football year after year.