With reduced PFDs on the way, protests expected at budget forum

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - With smaller dividend checks expected to be dispersed next week, the controversy over the governor’s Permanent Fund Earnings payment veto is once again boiling over.

Protests are scheduled to take place on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus on Saturday, right on the doorstep of a forum attempting to find common ground from both sides of the issue to solve the state’s budget deficit.

“There are people all over the state of Alaska who are upset,” said Michael Chambers, chair of the political group United for Liberty. “They're coming to UAA tomorrow to express their personal conviction about what that Permanent Fund means to them.”

Chambers said he not only plans to participate in the protest, he is scheduled to speak inside the forum called “Fiscally Alaskan: Moving Towards Solutions.” His topic is titled “The case for substantial budget cuts, with specifics.”

“Do I think that the legislature didn't do their due diligence with regard to looking at the budget? Absolutely,” said Chambers. “So what did they do? The governor took the easy way, he robbed the Permanent Fund from the citizens of Alaska.”

A Facebook group advocating for the protest called “Alaskans Against Gov. Walker's PFD Theft” has reached more than 13,000 members.

“We're spending four dollars for every one dollar we make. You either spend less money or figure out how to pay for the rest,” said collaborator Ian Laing with the political group Our Alaska.

Our Alaska is behind multiple videos circulating on Facebook through the tumultuous legislative session arguing for a comprehensive fiscal solution to the budget shortfall, including new revenues.

Laing said he believes there have been substantial cuts in government spending. He said he understands the governor’s decision to cut the dividend checks.

“You're talking about cutting education funding by two thirds, you are eliminating most health programs, you're pushing huge burdens on municipalities, and frankly it's not the kind of Alaska I think most Alaskans really want,” said Liang.

A Permanent Fund Dividend of $1,022 is expected to be paid out to about 643,000 Alaskans. According to the PFD’s historical formula, the check was expected to be twice that amount. Governor Bill Walker decided to veto the half of the overall payment after the state legislature passed a budget running a multi-billion dollar deficit.

“The roughly $666 million that Governor Walker vetoed from the Permanent Fund earnings reserve does not go toward government spending. That money remains in the account--so that there is money left over for future dividends,” the governor’s communications director Grace Jang wrote in a statement to Channel 2 News.

"I am also disappointed with our $3 billion deficit, which required me to make the very difficult decision to reduce this year's Permanent Fund Dividend. While I know my action is unpopular, my veto was necessary to preserve dividends for years to come,” said Gov. Walker in a statement on Friday.

The Fiscally Alaskan forum will be hosted by Alaska Common Ground and UAA's College of Business and Public Policy.

“It's a free public forum to educate and help Alaskans understand the gravity and severity of our fiscal and economic challenges,” said chair of Alaska Common Ground Cliff Groh.

It begins Saturday from 9 am to 4:30 pm at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium.

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