What the Legislature was unable to do in 90, 120, or 150 days, it hopes to do in the next special session of the year, which started Tuesday in Juneau.
The lawmakers are hoping for agreement, at the very least, on what the Permanent Fund dividend will be this year. Never in Alaska’s Permanent Fund history has the amount of the dividend been so tortured by politics, a condition created by former Gov. Bill Walker, who arbitrarily cut the dividend in half in 2016, and then by the Alaska Supreme Court, which upheld the argument that the dividend is not Alaskans’ share of oil royalty, but just another appropriation.
The fragile trust between the people and their government was broken at that moment, and the repercussions have been breaking down the ability for the Legislature to function ever since.
Finally, in 2021, the dividend appeared irrevocably broken. The amount set by the Legislature earlier this year was $525, so ludicrously low that the governor vetoed it and called lawmakers back into special session for a do-over.
This 30-day special session to fix the dividend follows weeks of the Legislature’s Comprehensive Fiscal Plan Working Group meeting — somewhat irregularly — to define the problem of the state budget and to suggest a path forward to the entire body. The eight members of the working group published on Monday their framework for a plan that would create a new long-term calculation for the Permanent Fund dividend, and also fund government.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy has suggested plans, including taking the formula for the dividend and government into a 50-50 split, to the people of Alaska for a vote on whether to lock it into the constitution and take the annual, costly politics out of it.
Some of the recommendations from the working group include that 50-50 split, and whether there should be a constitutional guarantee of a dividend.
The group also said there needs to be $500-775 million in new revenue, and between $25-200 million in further budget cuts.
Typically, the first few days of special sessions in the Alaska Legislature are uneventful, and it’s expected that this one will be no different in that regard.
The governor has reduced the Legislature’s budget by the amount of what their per diem would be, but the Legislature will probably find a workaround for paying themselves, as they have in the past.
The plan outline released Monday: