In the first wave of pre-filed legislation, legislators proposed five different pieces of legislation—three bills and two constitutional amendments—aimed at the Alaska Permanent Fund’s dividend.
The years of debate over the role of the Alaska Permanent Fund to help bridge the state’s budget gaps aren’t going to come to an end anytime soon, especially with the promise of full-sized dividends and the restoration of dividends vetoed or cut by former Gov. Bill Walker and the Legislature playing a key role in Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s path to office.
Michael J. Dunleavy, for his part, has proposed $3,000 dividends in his budget, but has yet to put forward a concrete plan for returning another $3,700 in back PFDs that he’s promised. Department of Revenue commissioner Bruce Tangeman told the ADN at the release of the budget that the back payments would “be dealt with in a different appropriation bill or a different manner.”
Still, Republicans weren’t rushing to be the first to deliver on Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s campaign promise, and it was Democrats that filed all but one of the PFD-focused pieces of legislation.
Two of the pieces of legislation were authored by Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski: Senate Bill 13, which would return the vetoed or reduced amounts of the 2016, 2017 and 2018 dividends (about $3,740 according to his calculation); and Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would ask voters to put the PFD into the constitution (unlike regulars bills this one needs two-thirds of each chamber to pass this).
Wielechowski seized the mantle of PFD defender during the previous session and ran with it, taking part in a procedural mutiny of the Senate Judiciary Committee that successfully got movement on three bills (his constitutional amendment to enshrine the PFD, Bree’s Law and a Senate Bill 91 repeal) when the Republican leadership would have rather iced the bills.
Both of Wielechowski’s proposals—and essentially Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s campaign promises along the same lines—face an uphill battle in the Senate. The Senate Rules Committee chairman—the gatekeeper who schedules what makes it to the Senate floor—is North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill, who was rolled in the previously mentioned procedural mutiny (Coghill also penned an editorial outlining his concerns with putting the PFD in the constitution).
And don’t count on that procedural mutiny to be forgotten anytime soon. For the record, here’s how it ended:
Sen. Tom Begich also has a proposed constitutional change for the PFD. His Senate Joint Resolution 2 seeks to enshrine a percent of market value model similar to the one the Legislature set in law in 2018, but where that law left split between government funding and the dividend to be decided by future legislators Begich’s proposal would set 40 percent of that income to dividends, 40 to government and the remaining 20 for inflation.
This proposal is the same Begich proposed during the previous session and is somewhat similar to the one proposed by his brother, Mark Begich, during his unsuccessful bid for governor.
The final Democratic proposal is by Sen.-elect Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks. Senate Bill 9 would allow people who’ve been cleared of criminal charges—by them being vacated, reversed or dismissed—to apply for the dividends they missed out while behind bars. The legislation, which inspired by the Fairbanks Four, has been proposed before and has found some traction in recent years.
The one Republican proposal for the dividend came from Sutton Republican Rep. George “Abstinence-Only” Rauscher. His bill, House Bill 3, would allow Alaskans to set aside all or part of their PFD to buy land from the Department of Natural Resources at a discount.
The proposal is similar to a rumored alternative to paying back PFDs in cash that the Michael J. Dunleavy administration had allegedly been considering. After his victory, though, Dunleavy said his proposal for returning dividends was separate from his goal of getting more public land into private hands.
The next release of pre-filed bills is due out on Friday. Session is set to begin on Tuesday, Jan. 15.