The Nenana Ice Classic bills itself as Alaska’s favorite guessing game. This year, that honor will go to the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend.
The state of Alaska maintains a rolling counter of how many people have applied for their dividend to date. As of Saturday, that counter stood at 273,212, and even if all 60 of Alaska’s lawmakers were among those applicants, even if Gov. Bill Walker and Lieutenant Gov. Bill Walker were, not a single one can tell you with any certainty how much this year’s dividend will be.
That’s because not a single one can tell you with any certainty how Alaska’s $2.5 billion budget deficit will be resolved this year. In 2018, both issues are related, and it’s likely to take some time to come up with an answer.
After all, lawmakers have known about the deficit for years. They have watched the level of the Constitutional Budget Reserve — the Legislature’s principal available savings account — dwindle from more than $10 billion to (at the end of this fiscal year) $2.2 billion.
They have cut total state spending by a sixth: From more than $13.2 billion in 2014 to a little more than $10.7 billion in 2017. Lawmakers seem to agree that budget cuts — at least, without major reforms to core programs like education and health care — have reached their limit.
The spending proposed for the next fiscal year has even increased, to a little less than $11 billion.