ANCHORAGE — Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration announced Friday that nearly every Alaskan will receive $1,606 in this year’s oil wealth check and reminded people that it could have been much bigger.
Dunleavy’s pick to fill an open state Senate seat could make that happen.
Dunleavy said he has appointed Rep. Josh Revak, an Anchorage Republican, to the open Senate seat. The move still needs confirmation by Senate Republicans, which is not assured.
Dunleavy campaigned last year on the prospect of a larger dividend in line with a longstanding calculation that has not been followed since 2016. The Department of Revenue said if the formula had been followed this year, the check amount would have been $2,910.
Some lawmakers said the state could afford such a payout and others countered it is unsustainable and at odds with a law that seeks to limit what can be taken from the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund for government expenses and dividends.
The divide led to prolonged and contentious legislative sessions that at one point this year had lawmakers meeting in two different cities.
Lawmakers ultimately settled on the smaller dividend amount by cobbling together a mix of dollars that included Alaska Permanent Fund earnings and savings.
State Sen. Chris Birch, an Anchorage Republican, advocated for the smaller check. When he died suddenly in August, Dunleavy appointed state Rep. Laddie Shaw to fill the vacancy.
Senate Republicans on Sept. 19 rejected Shaw, who favors the higher check.
Senate President Cathy Giessel of Anchorage said at the time that Birch had displayed strong leadership on reforming the dividend and protecting the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Giessel said Birch “proudly took the issue directly to voters during the recent election.”
“The duty of the Senate is to confirm a replacement … with deference to the views of the late Senator Birch and, most importantly, those of all the people in the district he served,” she said.
Like Shaw, Revak favours the bigger check.
Dunleavy said that didn’t play a role in his selection.
“It’s more his character, his resume, his integrity,” Dunleavy said.
Senate Republicans are determining a time to meet to consider the appointment of Revak. At least seven of the 12 Republicans in the Senate would have to vote to approve him.
Revak enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after 9-11 and served tours of duty in Iraq, where Dunleavy said he was seriously wounded. Revak worked on veteran issues for U.S. Rep. Don Young and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, both Alaska Republicans, before being elected last year.
Revak called his selection “an incredible honour.” He didn’t appear at the governor’s news conference because he was attending an Army reunion in Washington.
“Being surrounded by men and women I fought with — and remembering friends who made the ultimate sacrifice — only reaffirms my commitment to service for our state and our country,” he said in a statement.
Dunleavy said he would like to call another special session this year to consider disbursing another $1,300 to residents. But he noted that is dependent on having the Senate at full membership.
The state revenue department said nearly 631,000 Alaskans will receive a check, with disbursements starting Thursday. The total amount of the payout is just over $1 billion.
The announcement used to come with great fanfare, with the governor and revenue commissioner announcing the amount — written on a giant fake check — during a news conference broadcast live across the state.
That was before lawmakers began limiting the amount of the checks during a downturn in the state economy.
• By Mark Thiessen, Associated Press