Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, held a press conference Wednesday in front of an Anchorage Fred Meyer store to announce his intention to offer a bill that would restore half the Permanent Fund Dividend vetoed by Gov. Bill Walker this year.
In a prepared statement, Dunleavy said “the bill will be pre-filed as soon as possible, and I will ask for an expedited hearing when the Legislature convenes on Jan. 17, 2017.”
Dunleavy cast a strange scene as he announced his bill in the parking lot of an Anchorage store. The announcement was broadcast on Facebook Live, which showed shoppers stopping to watch and ask questions alongside reporters. One man in particular frequently interrupted Dunleavy with vocal opposition to the dividend veto.
The $1,022 dividend is expected to reach Alaskans Thursday, but it could have been double that amount had Walker not vetoed some $700 million from the account that pays dividends.
Walker said at the time that the veto was necessary to preserve the state’s savings. With Alaska’s state government operating at a multibillion-dollar deficit, it will soon need to use the account that pays dividends. Lowering the dividend this year ensures there will be more money in that account in the future.
Walker’s move was unpopular in many corners of the state, but the Alaska Legislature failed to muster enough votes to override Walker’s veto.
After the Legislature left Juneau, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, launched a lawsuit to overturn Walker’s move on legal grounds. That measure is still proceeding through the courts, and Dunleavy said he’s “actually looking forward to the outcome of the lawsuit.”
He hopes his intent and announcement will start a bigger conversation about the right size of government and get people talking seriously, months before the Legislature starts working.
“Let’s agree that we’re going to have to reduce government and come up with a number first,” Dunleavy said. “We can’t even right now agree on a number, a size of reduction.”
If Alaskans can agree on that number, they’ll be able to then consider what can fit inside that figure — education, transportation, health care, or some other item.
“We got into this as a result of being too dependent on oil,” Dunleavy said. “We’re going to get out of this thing by working together and being transparent.”
Dunleavy is not running for election this year — his seat doesn’t come up for election until 2018 — but when asked if he is planning a run for governor, he didn’t directly deny it.
“This is not about any run,” Dunleavy said of his proposal. “This is not about any election.”
“This is unprecedented times,” he said, “but we’re hanging in there, standing in front of a store in which people are shopping, and we’re going to get through this.”