Gov. Dunleavy signs off on $1,600 PFD, majority of earlier vetoes

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy has signed off on a $1,600 Permanent Fund dividend for 2019 but said that he would continue striving for a full statutory dividend.

“I will not veto this incomplete dividend,” Dunleavy said in an online video, explaining that Alaskans risked getting no PFD if he vetoed the $1,600 figure passed by the Legislature.

The governor said he anticipates a special session to take place in the fall that would see lawmakers debate whether to pay the remaining $1,400 that Alaskans would receive under the statutory formula.

"I'll introduce legislation to provide for a full statutory PFD through a payment from the Earnings Reserve Account," Dunleavy said. The governor cannot appropriate the money for a full PFD himself as the authority to appropriate funds rests solely with the Legislature.

In early August, leadership of both the Alaska House of Representatives and the Senate called for a fall special session
that would debate the long-term future of the dividend and the Permanent Fund.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, released a statement Monday afternoon welcoming the $1,600 PFD. "At the same time, the governor made many cuts without analysis to determine impacts on people and our economy, and he continues to perpetuate the myth that we can afford the largest PFD in history without significant negative consequences.”

House Republicans released a statement applauding the governor for approving "the first installment" of this year's dividend payments.

Dunleavy's announcement on Monday was made through a video streamed online. The governor did not take questions from the media.

"Given the significance of this issue and the attention it has received, Governor Dunleavy wanted to make this announcement in a formal address to Alaskans," read a prepared a statement from Matt Shuckerow, the governor's press secretary.

In the announcement, Dunleavy also touted the success his administration has had in bringing down the deficit by making $650 million in cuts.

"While state savings will continue to be exhausted as we move into a multi-year step down, reducing our rate of spending must be a priority for all Alaskans," he said. "More must be done in the coming months, but we as Alaskans are resilient, and I honestly believe our future remains bright."

Over the past week, the governor has announced that he would restore funding for the Senior Benefits Program and early childhood education. Dunleavy also signed a plan with the University of Alaska that would see $70 million cut over three years instead of $135 million in one year.

On Monday, the governor announced a few more programs would have their funding restored but a majority of the vetoes would stay intact.

The programs that regained their funding include:

- $3.9 million to the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

- $100,000 to Office of Veterans Affairs for an additional Veterans’ Services Officer.

- $2.2 million to Human Services Matching Grants and Community Initiative Grants.

- $533,500 to reopening the Utqiagvik Law Office.

- $2.7 million to agricultural programs.

Included in House Bill 2001 were provisions that would have restored the vast majority of funding to items the governor had previously vetoed. The governor's office announced that he had vetoed a majority of that funding again.

Those vetoes include:

- $2.7 million for public broadcasting. The governor's office says the reduction will not impact emergency broadcasting systems.

- $3.4 million for the Ocean Ranger Program. The governor's office suggests the program has been ineffective. There is apparently an alternative being considered by the Department of Environmental Conservation. The program was funded by cruise ship passengers.

- $50 million from Medicaid and $27 million from adult preventative dental services. The governor's office says it is looking at efficiencies in Medicaid delivery.

- $48 million from school bond debt reimbursement. The governor had previously vetoed 50% of municipal school construction costs. The Legislature brought the funding back to 100% before the governor vetoed that down again.

- $5 million from the Alaska Marine Highway System. Lawmakers made a $40 million cut to Alaska ferries but added back $5 million for winter service. The governor vetoed that extra funding.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, released a statement opposed the governor's cuts.

"These vetoes should never have happened just to ‘start a conversation,’ as Governor Dunleavy suggests. Many Alaskans are already preparing to leave the state or are unable to plan for their future due to a lack of certainty," he wrote. "Alaskans deserve a system of government that works for them from the start, not one that causes us to live our lives through fear and despair."

House Republicans claimed credit for working with the governor to restore funding to some items but said they were happy with the cuts.

“We are pleased to see that so many of those necessary reductions we fought for remain in place, and I remain vigilant in fighting for a full, statutory Permanent Fund Dividend,” wrote. Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla.

To restore funding to the items the governor vetoed again, the Legislature would need a three-quarters vote of both the House and Senate. The vote would need to take place within five days of when the Legislature next convenes.

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