State senator prepares bill to restore full amount of 2016 Permanent Fund dividend

Sen. Mike Dunleavy outside the Muldoon Fred Meyer grocery store on October 5, 2016.
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) Sen. Mike Dunleavy plans to introduce legislation to restore the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) amount to $2,052, as originally calculated by the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.

"This bill will be pre-filed as soon as possible and I will ask for an expedited hearing when the Legislature convenes on January 17," said Sen. Dunleavy, (R-Mat-Su & Copper River Valleys.)

At a press conference outside the Fred Meyer store in Muldoon, Dunleavy said he hopes a companion bill will be filed in the House.

The senator would like the bill to be passed early in the session to allow the remainder of the PFD to be mailed to each Alaskan in early 2017.

Governor Bill Walker vetoed the Legislature's appropriation for this year’s payment, which will be distributed on Thursday. Given the state’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit, Walker cited the need to keep more money in the Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve to ensure that future generations of Alaskans get the annual payout.

Earlier this week Walker noted that the state’s budget has shrunk 44 percent in the past four years, while state officials have drawn $12.6 billion from savings accounts since 2013.

“Much as a family would after losing nearly 90 percent of its household income, Alaska must continue to make cuts, find new sources of revenue and use the interest from the wealth that we have accumulated,” he said.

Walker’s decision to keep nearly $667 million in the earnings reserve meant that instead of receiving PFD checks totaling $2,052, Alaskans will receive $1,022.

“I know my decision to veto the dividend appropriation has not been popular. It was an action I did not make lightly,” Walker said.

Reacting to Dunleavy's announcement about his PFD bill, Walker said through a spokeswoman that with Alaska "facing its gravest fiscal crisis in history, my administration and I remain focused on enacting a complete plan that will bring economic stability to this and future generations of Alaskans.”

Dunleavy acknowledged on Wednesday that Alaska is experiencing budget deficits of approximately $3.5 billion annually due to low oil prices and that lawmakers must come up with a fiscal plan to close the gap. But he said people need their full PFDs and now is not the time to cut them.

"While additional revenue in the form of taxes and use of the Permanent Fund may be inevitable in the future, Alaska's private economy is currently suffering. Thousands have lost their jobs, representing billions in lost income. In addition, individual Alaskans – some of whom were laid off as a result of the crash in oil prices – have struggled to makes ends meet."

Dunleavy said Alaska families and businesses are “teetering on the brink.”

A lawsuit has been filed to determine if the governor had the legal right to veto a portion of the dividend. While it is unclear if the courts will restore the vetoed amount, Alaska residents will shortly be issued a check for half the amount calculated by the APFC under state law and approved by the Legislature.

"It's the wrong time to take an additional $666 million out of an already struggling private economy and an additional $1030 out of the pockets of Alaskans," Dunleavy said.

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