photo by Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File                                Clouds swirls over Douglas Island on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018.

photo by Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File Clouds swirls over Douglas Island on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018.

PFDs for land? Gov introduces land vouchers bill

Alaskans can exchange their PFDs for vouchers worth double statutory formula

Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced legislation last Friday that would allow Alaskans to exchange their Permanent Fund Dividend checks for land vouchers that would be used to purchase state-owned land.

Under the proposed legislation, announced by Dunleavy in his State of the State address, Alaskans would be able to choose either receiving their PFD or a voucher worth double the statutory formula which can be applied only to the purchase of state lands.

“It’s a priority for Gov. Dunleavy to grow the amount of land that Alaskans own,” said Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige in a press conference. “This is an innovative way to take (the state’s mineral wealth) and convert it to buying a piece of Alaska.”

So far the bill has no official sponsor in the Legislature and has been referred to the House Rules Committee at the request of the governor.

The state owns land in abundance, according to Martin Parsons, director of the Division of Mining, Land and Water at DNR. The state will designate areas it deems suitable for settlement, and those lands will go into a land sale contract, Parsons said.

The value of land varies throughout the state, Parsons said, with land in Southeast being more expensive and land in the interior being cheaper. The average price of land across the state was about $3,000 an acre, Parson said, and the state was looking at selling 5-acre parcels.

Vouchers can be used toward lands being sold through various state programs. Lands for sale by the state can be found at the Division of Mining, Land and Water’s website.

Currently, while most of the land eligible for purchase with vouchers are residential or recreational, there are some opportunities for commercial use Parsons said, but none of the land will be available for industrial development.

Vouchers are transferable, and they can be pooled, sold or aggregated by their owners. The state will not keep records of who owns the vouchers, said Mike Barnhill, acting director of the Department of Revenue. The vouchers will be similar to bearer bonds in that whoever has the physical copy of the voucher will be considered the owner.

If the physical copy is lost, a replacement won’t be available. Vouchers would not expire and there won’t be requirements for development of the land once it is purchased.

Alaskans will have the opportunity to obtain vouchers when applying for their PFD, Parsons said, but they will have to choose between converting their entire dividend to a voucher or receiving their PFD check. Alaskans will not be able to allocate a portion of their PFD to a voucher and a portion to other sources such as Pick, Click, Give, according to Parsons.

However, because vouchers have monetary value they will be considered as an asset on applications for state aid programs such as Medicaid. If Alaskans choose to exchange their PFDs for the voucher, they must report those vouchers on applications for state or federal aid programs. That may raise their total asset value to a point they are ineligible for aid, according to Suzanne Cunningham, legislative director for the governor’s office.

“We are going to look at totally revamping how Alaskans get a piece of the Last Frontier,” Dunleavy said in his State of the State address. “Together, with these new initiatives, we will put Alaska’s land into Alaskans’ hands.”

Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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