Gov. Dunleavy unveils three constitutional amendments

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — Gov. Mike Dunleavy has unveiled three proposed amendments to the Alaska constitution that would protect the dividend, enact a spending cap on the legislature, and require a vote of the people to levy new taxes or change existing tax rates.

“In order for us to get a permanent fiscal plan, a durable fiscal plan, we want to involve the people in the front end, in the creation of that plan,” Dunleavy said at a Tuesday morning press conference.

The three amendments

- Protect the PFD: The statutory formula traditionally used to calculate the dividend would be placed in the constitution. Neither a veto by the governor nor the legislature could reduce the PFD amount.

- No new taxes without a vote: Any new tax or increase in tax rates passed by the Legislature would require a vote of the people. Similarly, any voter initiative to raise taxes or increase a tax rate would need to be approved by the Legislature.

- Spending cap: A spending cap would be calculated using a three-year average of state spending. Increases would be allowed for inflation and population rises. There would also be a savings plan that would replace the Constitutional Budget Reserve, under which unused funds would be transferred to the General Fund or the Permanent Fund.

“We’ve had many constitutional amendments in Alaska, but none as big as this,” said Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, chair of the Senate Rules Committee. Coghill said that the Legislature would look at the amendments carefully, and that it was important “not to be pejorative but to be productive.”

Democrats in both the House and Senate expressed concern that the governor’s spending cap may result in a cut to state services, especially if his upcoming budget is as austere as expected.

“In other states that have adopted these sorts of measures, what you’ve seen is draconian education cuts, unsustainable cuts to public safety, ultimately, local government has to then jack up property taxes, or let essential services like public safety and public education go unfilled,” said Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage.

Coghill said an overly austere budget may make legislators look at the amendments differently. He spoke cautiously about the proposed amendments, saying that bringing Alaskans into big policy decisions sounded positive, but he was concerned about creating a system of direct democracy where “the 51 percent begins to rule the state of Alaska.”

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, questioned the idea of bringing people into the political process through these amendments, saying that was already achieved through elections.

“I think these amendments are about putting this governor’s agenda in the constitution," Kiehl said. "It would be really hard for the voters if they wanted to go in another direction.”

Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate before the people of Alaska would need to vote on them. Dunleavy hopes to have all three amendments on the ballot for the 2020 state election.