Dividend, alongside budget, will be a focus for lawmakers

Sen. Bill Wielechowski knows the state needs to balance its budget. The Anchorage Democrat just wants to make sure that Alaskans’ Permanent Fund Dividend isn’t a price of that balancing act.

For the third consecutive Legislature, Wielechowski is proposing a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the dividend for good.

In proposing dividend-focused legislation, Wielechowski won’t be alone this time. Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, will introduce a measure to restore the $1,000 per-person payment vetoed by Gov. Bill Walker last year. Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, will pre-file a companion bill in the House.

“I’m going to prefile the PFD Restoration Act,” Eastman said.

The dividend was a touchy topic last session as lawmakers pondered a cap on dividend payments alongside a diversion of some Permanent Fund proceeds to state government. The cap was considered necessary to maximize the amount of money available to state services.

In the end, Senate Bill 128 failed to gain House approval and died at the end of the Legislature.

After the session ended, Walker cut $600 million from the $1.2 billion appropriation for the dividend, effectively reducing the per-person payout from $2,000 to $1,000.

As lawmakers prepare to readdress plans to use Permanent Fund revenue for state expenses, Wielechowski says a dividend guarantee is critical to build popular support.

“I think if the Legislature wants to restructure the Permanent Fund … probably the only way you could get people to support it is if you can ensure they continue to get a dividend,” Wielechowski said. “If you guarantee the dividend, then I think that’s a big selling point for a lot of Alaskans.”

In 2013, Wielechowski proposed SJR 13, which never received a hearing. In 2014, it was SJR 1, which passed out of the Senate State Affairs Committee but never passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

When Gov. Bill Walker vetoed half of the Permanent Fund Dividend in 2016, Wielechowski sued and lost in superior court. The case is still pending on appeal.

Wielechowski said the proposed constitutional amendment — which would set in stone the formula used to calculate the 2015 dividend — follows the strategy he’s been following for a long time.

But does Wielechowski’s idea make sense if — as will be discussed this year — the Legislature enacts a statewide sales tax or income tax?

After all, if that tax passes and so does Wielechowski’s amendment, the state’s government would effectively be taking from one hand and giving from another.

Wielechowski doesn’t see it that way. In fact, he doesn’t think a sales or income tax is necessary at all — if the state restores oil taxes to their historic average.

“If you simply restructure the oil taxes to get our historic 30 percent, it brings in $4.2 billion,” Wielechowski said. “You just about completely eliminate the deficit.”

Raising oil taxes would be a tough sell in the Republican-led Senate and even in the House, where a coalition majority rules.

“I can’t have it unless I try,” Wielechowski said.

While Wielechowski is looking at future dividends, Dunleavy is looking at the past. In October, he announced that he will file a bill to restore the half of the 2016 dividend vetoed by Walker.

“The bill will be pre-filed as soon as possible,” he said at the time, “and I will ask for an expedited hearing when the Legislature convenes on Jan. 17, 2017.”

More in News

The entrance to the Kenai Courthouse in Kenai, AK as seen on February 26, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Court reports for the week of April 11, 2021

The following dismissals were recently handed down in Kenai District Court: A… Continue reading

Rhonda Baisden testifies before the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education on March 1 in Kenai. Baisden has been a vocal critic of school board COVID-19 mitigation policies implemented by the school district. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘You can’t expect people to live in bubbles forever’

Parents organize proms as tensions continue on school mitigation protocols.

Todd Duwe hands a food box to Brad Nyquist as Mark Larson looks on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna, Alaska. The church volunteers were distributing food from the United States’ Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, delivered by the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Weekly food bank distribution transitioning to monthly

Food bank will return to monthly boxes as CARES funding dries up.

Project Homeless Connect volunteers help Arlene Jasky, center, pick out hats and gloves for a friend during a Project Homeless Connect event at the Sterling Senior Citizens Center in Sterling, Alaska on Feb. 2, 2021. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Fund established to combat peninsula homelessneess

An anonymous donor reached out to the Kenai Peninsula Foundation wanting to formally establish a fund.

Alaska State Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink provides data for a COVID-19 briefing via Zoom on Thursday, April 15, 2021. The data show a decrease in COVID-19 infections as the percent of people vaccinated increases.
DHSS reports 20 new COVID deaths

Nineteen of the fatalities were reported after death certificate review

A sign is posted directing drivers to a vaccine clinic held at Beacon Occupational Health in Kenai, Alaska, on Saturday, April 10, 2021. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to offer walk-in vaccine clinic with state grant funds

The state has about $37.5 million available for the program and is requiring 10% of the funds from each grant to be used to address health equity.

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File
Doctors at Bartlett Regional Hospital often call consultants and specialist for medical advice, but a supreme court case out of Minnesota could make that dynamic legally questionable.
Bill seeks to shield doctors from liability when consulting

‘Curbside consultations’ are protected under proposal.

Most Read