It’s an election year.
The state House — where all of the seats will be on the ballot — won’t touch the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend no matter what; right or wrong, it won’t touch it.
At least not until after November’s election.
It’s the way it is.
And if Alaskans are happy with the state of the state pre-election, then they’ll support their House members. If not, new members will be seated in November.
Maybe House members will luck out and the price for a barrel of oil will zoom up between now and election day and make the permanent fund discussion moot. Maybe not.
It’s a bet, and it’s risky.
Gov. Bill Walker doesn’t want to risk the Alaska Permanent Fund, nor the future of Alaska. With the state’s $3.5-billion deficit, he’d rather prepare to avoid the worst case scenario. That means a variety of spending cuts, increased revenue and a temporary cap on permanent fund payouts.
Then, if the worst case scenario doesn’t happen, all the better for Alaska. (It’s like putting on a life jacket. It’s better to have worn it and not needed it, than to go into the water without it.)
From Walker’s viewpoint, at least Alaska wouldn’t risk its economic future and the permanent fund dividend.
Walker is now in the unenviable position of deciding whether, or by how much, to fund the dividends this year. Distributions are estimated at $2,000. He’s proposed a cap of $1,000, applying the difference to deficit reduction.
He has the Legislature’s budget before him; all he’d have to do is alter the permanent fund allocation with his veto pen.
Walker isn’t concerned about re-election. He wants to do the job he was elected to — lead. Leading means doing what’s right, not taking a poll and doing what is politically safe.
As a lawyer, he knows to review all of the evidence. Then decide, based on that evidence, the best course of action.
He has substantial evidence for a veto when it comes to the permanent fund.
A key point is that Ketchikan’s senator, Bert Stedman of Sitka, the Senate’s former, but long-time co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, voted in support of Walker’s permanent fund proposal. Stedman knows state finances better than most of the state’s elected elite.
He’s a numbers guy.
Add to that the price of oil, the projected price of oil, the state’s downgraded bond rating by not one, but three bonding agencies, the significant loss of Alaska’s oil industry jobs; and, clearly, addressing the deficit sooner rather than after the election is a wise decision. The Senate, recognizing that delays endanger the permanent fund, voted along with Walker’s proposed cap.
But, House members didn’t act in the regular or the first special legislative session this year.
It’s up to the governor to make the next move by July 1. Then, depending on whether he chooses to veto all or part of the permanent fund allocation, the Legislature will get a chance to act on it in a second special session beginning July 11.
If the House acts then, it might be in an attempt to overturn a Walker permanent fund-related budget decision.
Sadly, that’s part of politics — not always in the best interest of Alaska.
— Ketchikan Daily News, June 25