As the Legislature focuses on establishing a new mechanism to pay for state government, opposition to plans involving the use of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings has ramped up.
While we encourage a vigorous debate on an issue that affects all Alaskans, we’re concerned to see some of the disingenuous ways in which the plans are being characterized. Indeed, they seem more like negative campaign advertising than advocacy for a legitimate point of view.
Case in point: there are voices in Alaska referring to any plan that uses funds from the permanent fund earnings reserve as a “raid on the permanent fund” and a threat to annual dividend payments.
Phrasing it that way will certainly get people riled up, but let’s be honest about what that sentiment actually is — a demand that lawmakers prioritize benefits to individual Alaskans over the necessities of the state as whole.
Unfortunately, mischaracterization of the debate does little to advance a solution the state’s fiscal crisis.
The facts of the matter are that state government has been cut dramatically over the past few years, and lawmakers indicate that they will continue to do so, but with oil prices low for the foreseeable future, there isn’t enough revenue for the state to cover the services required by the state constitution or demanded by Alaskans. Plans being considered by the Legislature combine a mix of cuts, new taxes, and use of the permanent fund earnings reserve — an account which has always been available to lawmakers to fund state government.
The permanent fund’s principal remains constitutionally protected.
Many lawmakers have indicated that they would like to see the dividend program continue, and there is certainly room for debate as to the best ratio of cuts, taxes and permanent fund earnings. Likewise, there is an argument to be made that permanent fund dividends have the potential to benefit Alaskans as much as state spending.
Let’s have that debate, but let’s make sure it’s an honest one. Decisions made by lawmakers over the next couple of weeks will impact Alaskans for many years to come. Let’s save the inflammatory rhetoric for election season.
Better yet, let’s avoid it altogether.