We the people can decide to assign our Alaska Permanent Fund dividends to government agencies.
In 1992, the state Legislature banned individual Alaskans from assigning dividends — except to agencies, primarily to which they had a debt. For example, with the court system, for unpaid child support or to the IRS.
Perhaps the Legislature might expand on that. It has for the past two years taken about half of each eligible Alaskan’s dividend. It is likely to take a portion of this year’s, too.
But, what if instead of the state taking, Alaskans had the choice to give their dividend to the state out of concern for eliminating Alaska’s multi-billion-dollar budget deficit?
Or, maybe Alaskans would prefer to give their dividends to their communities, which have received less revenue sharing from the state since the deficit. The dividend money directed to, for example, Ketchikan, could be spent on any number of local desires, from schools to roads, sewers, waterlines and other general government services. Or local communities might turn around and create their own permanent fund with the contributed dividends.
Statistics show where the dividends are spent. Alaskans contributed $7.4 million of their individual dividends to an University of Alaska College Savings Plan in 2017. Nonprofits received about $2.5 million.
Not all Alaskans would want to participate, but, judging by the response to donating dividends to nonprofits, some would — and likely in significant numbers. When we’re talking millions of dollars annually, that’s significant.
The additional option to assign wouldn’t take away from the college fund nor the nonprofits; it would provide another opportunity to give for those who aren’t giving now.
Alaskans also would be within their rights to keep their dividends. Some save in personal accounts for college. Others need the money for basic necessities to get through the year, particularly in rural and severely economically challenged communities.
This way it would be individual Alaskans’ choice to decide where the greatest need is. Lawmakers could make their case for donations to the state, but other than appealing to Alaskans, they wouldn’t touch the dividends, which energize the state economy in the fall following dispersion.
The Legislature would look at other options for dealing with the deficit.
But whatever the Legislature allows to be done with the dividends, no one will receive a payout this year unless an application was submitted. The deadline was Saturday.
Lawmakers will make their decisions in the coming final weeks of the legislative session, and Alaskans will realize the outcome when payments are made in October.
Perhaps by then or in years to come, we’ll have another option for helping out our state and community.
— Ketchikan Daily News,