Alaskans weigh-in on ‘super-sized’ PFD

Most would prefer to fund education, other services

More than 120 Alaskans from all over the state weighed-in on a pair of bills that would require the state to pay out a “super-sized” Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, incrementally, over the next three years, during a Senate State Affairs Committee meeting Thursday night.

From 2016-2018, dividends were capped and a portion of the Permanent Fund earnings were used to balance the state’s operating budget. Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced Senate Bills 23 and 24 to make good on a campaign promise to pay back Alaskans the money they would have received had they been given a full dividend. The majority of callers testified against the payback dividend bills.

“This plan will take money that our state needs for government services like the (Alaska Marine Highway System) and education,” Amy Sweenie of Sitka said, adding that she did not want Alaska to “become like a third world country.”

Many of those who testified against the bills offered a similar sentiment. If SB 23 and SB 24 were to pass it would cost upward of $2.4 billion over three years. In exchange, government services would have to be cut. Most callers said they’d rather fund education and other state services than receive this extra money.

Laura Stats of Juneau said the bills would create “chaos” and an “exodus” of Alaskans.

Marie McConnell of Sterling said she was originally in favor of these PFD payments until she learned what it would do to the state budget.

“I think this is analogous to being on a diet and being fiscally fit and then eating and gaining it all back,” McConnell said about issuing these dividends.

Scott McManus of Tok said he’d received every PFD but he is “strongly against the super-sized” dividend. McManus said the PFD has “become a wedge issue” and it’s dividing Alaskans. Some callers who supported the legislation argued it’s the will of the people to pass SB 23 and 24 since the people elected Dunleavy.

“The governor’s doing exactly what he said he would do and we elected him. The governor said he was going to balance the budget,” said Fred Sturman of Soldotna. “I expect him to do what he was going to do. People, don’t cry about it. The governor’s doing what he said he’d do.”

Other callers like Mike Prax of North Pole argued the state owed Alaskans the back pay PFD because using the Permanent Fund earnings to fund government services was against the law.

“I urge you to pass them out of committee as soon as possible,” Prax said. Prax went on to call Gov. Bill Walker’s use of the Permanent Fund earnings to fund government one of the “most egregious acts against public trust.”

At about 8 p.m. Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, ended the meeting with more than 30 callers still waiting to testify. Shower said there will be another chance for the public to testify next week. If the tandem of PFD bills were to pass, Alaskans would be eligible to receive the following payments:

• Alaskans who were eligible for the 2016 PFD would receive an additional $1,061 in their 2019 PFD.

• The retroactive PFD payment from 2017 would be $1,289 in 2020.

• And if you received your PFD in 2018 you would receive $1,328 in 2021.

• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258. Follow him on Twitter at @alaska_kev.