Dozens call opposing House PFD plan that would change the dividend formula

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Dozens of people called into a hearing of the House Finance Committee, opposing a plan that would change the formula that calculates the Permanent Fund Dividend, some lawmakers question the governor's role in advocating for that position.

On Wednesday, House Bill 1005 was introduced into the Alaska House of Representatives. As written, the bill would deliver a roughly $3,000 PFD in 2019 but that would be contingent on the dividend formula changing in the future.

The new formula would see Alaskans receive a dividend roughly half the size as under the current model. Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, introduced the bill and says that percentage is meant to start debate.

The legislation would pull $1.44 billion from the Earnings Reserve Account, and $500 million from the Constitutional Budget Reserve to pay for the PFD. The plan would amount to a second draw from the ERA in 2019, a move that would contravene the rules-based system set up under Senate Bill 26.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, the Speaker of the House, said Wednesday that a permanent solution needs to be found on the question of the dividend. “We can’t continue to allow it to dominate the political landscape here in Juneau and across Alaska,” he said.

On Thursday, the House Finance Committee heard public testimony from dozens of Alaskans across the state with only one caller expressing support for the bill. Some called saying the money was essential to their livelihoods while others said the current statutory formula should be followed.

The House majority held a budget roadshow during the regular legislative session. Members say that they overwhelmingly heard from Alaskans that they would accept a smaller dividend if core state services were funded.

The governor’s office remains in lockstep with the callers advocating for a full PFD. Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s press secretary, said Gov. Mike Dunleavy remains committed to delivering a full dividend and that any change to the formula should go before a vote of the people.

Some lawmakers have questioned the governor’s role in advocating for his position. The governor’s office funds multiple Facebook pages including one called “Restore the PFD” that directs members of the public to call the Legislature.

“One of the things the governor’s office has done is advocated and let people know how to engage their lawmakers and be involved in the committee process,” said Shuckerow. He described that the office has received numerous requests from people asking how they can get involved in the political process.

Wanting to remain on background, some lawmakers say while it is normal for a governor to call for people to engage with the Legislature, it's unprecedented for a governor to advise people to call in and advocate for their policy position.

“It’s interesting that certain lawmakers don’t like the idea that there’s more public engagement,” said Shuckerow. “I think what they’re really saying is that they disagree with the content of what the callers are saying.”

Some members of the House minority have come out strongly against the approach taken by the majority.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, introduced three bills Wednesday that would pay out a full dividend and pay back the dividends shrunk by lawmakers over the passed two years and vetoed by Gov. Bill Walker in 2015.

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