With rising oil prices and the strong performance of the Alaska Permanent Fund, the bipartisan majority House Coalition announced today that it plans to add a $1,300 “Energy Relief Check” to this year’s state budget, which would be paid along with whatever dividend ultimately emerges this year.
In an announcement today, House Coalition leadership said the measure would be introduced as part of the updated budget that the House Finance Committee plans to unveil on Thursday. The group cited rising fuel costs, inflation and the covid-19 pandemic as reason for the payout.
“The cost of fuel is skyrocketing across the country, but nowhere is that more acutely being felt than in rural Alaska,” said Rep. Neal Foster, the Nome Democrat who co-chairs the Finance Committee, in a prepared statement. “An Energy Relief Check of $1,300, on top of the Permanent Fund Dividend, is exactly what Alaskans need now.”
The idea mirrors the 2008 energy rebate paid out under former Gov. Sarah Palin. Then, it was a $1,200 check that combined with a PFD payout under the statutory formula to total more than $3,200. It’s not yet clear what the size of this year’s dividend will be—as the formula has been ignored for several years amid underlying financial woes and been set on an ad hoc basis—but most expectations pin it between $1,100 and about $2,000.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who has abandoned his push for a full statutory dividend, has pushed for a dividend amounting to half of the draw out of the Alaska Permanent Fund, which would amount to about $2,500. Legislators initially balked at the idea, arguing that it would be more prudent to put the state’s higher-than-anticipated oil tax revenue and investment revenue into savings.
It appears that rising inflation and energy prices—amid escalating conflict in Ukraine the price for a barrel of North Slope crude crossed $100 on Tuesday, higher than what were considered to be overly optimistic projections—have changed minds.
“Between the negative economic effects of COVID and escalating energy costs, our residents are suffering,” House Speaker Louise Stutes said. “With the influx of new revenue, we are in a position to provide an Energy Relief Check to Alaskans and that is exactly what the House Coalition intends to do.”
Dunleavy’s office did not immediately respond to the announcement, but the campaign of former Gov. Bill Walker did. Less than 30 minutes following the House’s announcement, the Walker/Drygas campaign announced its endorsement of the Energy Relief Check.
“Alaskans are getting hammered by high energy costs,” Walker said in a prepared statement. “Oil prices are higher than they’ve been in over a decade. The calculation is easy: get help out the door, just like the state did through the energy rebate program in response to high oil prices back in 2008.”
Democratic candidate Les Gara also tweeted support for the plan later in the day.
“The House was right to announce an energy relief check. (Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s) problem is his PFD promises are unfunded,” he said. “Or at the expense of schools, seniors and a construction budget. By ending oil company subsidies, we’d end these false choices and have a bigger PFD than he’s ever passed.”
Dunleavy eventually tweeted his support of the plan, writing “Better late than never.”
While attitudes in the House may be shifting on cash payouts to Alaskans, the measure would still need to clear through the more conservative Senate, where the savings-first attitude is strongest (particularly on the Senate Finance Committee). The Senate had been expected to focus this week on legislation to rewrite the dividend formula but has canceled all regular floor sessions.
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