Bill looks to fund education with raffle

The Alaska Senate is recruiting lady luck to help fund education with a raffle that residents can enter using their Permanent Fund Dividends.

Senate Bill 78 would allow Alaskans 18 and older to donate all or part of their PFD check to fund education. For every $100 donated, the resident receives one entry in the raffle.

“Alaskans can donate all or part of their Permanent Fund Dividend in a manner similar to the familiar ‘Pick. Click. Give.’ program. When they help raise money for education through a donation from their PFD check, they also have a chance to win a percentage of the total money donated through an education lottery,” said Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, in his sponsor’s statement.

Of the donations received, half is put directly towards the state’s education budget “for use that year,” Bishop said in a phone interview Tuesday.

A quarter of the funds would be put into an education endowment fund, also created by SB 78. If and when the endowment reaches $1 billion , the investment earnings will be used for the education budget as well, according the the bill.

The final 25 percent would be put into a dividend raffle fund. Each year, 5 percent of this fund would be used to award four prize winners. When the balance of the dividend raffle fund exceeds $500 million, it overflows into the education endowment fund.

“When the (education endowment) reaches $1 billion, it will start spinning off into the education budget. The lottery fund… when it hits half a billion, it’ll spin off a dividend into the endowment. This thing will just keep paying vertical,” Bishop said.

Bishop introduced the bill March 6. It passed the Senate on Friday, 19-1 and was referred to the House Finance Committee on Saturday.

According to Bishop’s statement, a statewide survey shows that 60 percent of Alaskans believe education needs more or continued levels of state funding.

“I appreciate that the Legislature is trying to be creative, but education is a responsibility of all citizens in this state and should be supported as such,” said Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Sean Dusek via email on Tuesday.

Currently, education is the largest single expense in the state’s Unrestricted General Fund budget. The Senate has proposed a 5 percent cut to the base student allocation, amounting to a $69 million dollar cut, in order to close the state’s $3 billion defecit.

“I’m trying to just put another tool in the toolbox. I get tons of correspondence saying, ‘Please take my PFD, please tax me (for education),’” Bishop said. “I’m looking out at the next 25 to 50 years because I want to use our renewable resource and that is the earnings of our money set up as an endowment.”

According to projections from Bishop’s office, in the first year of the raffle, if 50,000 participants donate an average of $200, the public education fund would receive a $5 million deposit and both the education endowment and lottery funds would receive $2.5 million. The four prizes would range from $24,500 to $196,000 for a total prize payout of $367,500.

Alaska does not have a state lottery, but Bishop said that 15 other states utilize a lottery system to fund education.

“We listened to people that had concerns with the idea of a lottery and what not, and we took those thoughts to heart and made it a raffle. That’s what it is, essentially, a bucket raffle,” Bishop said.

Bishop is the primary sponsor of the bill. Senators Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, joined Bishop as bill sponsors later.

If the bill becomes law, it would go into effect January 1, 2018.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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