PFD likely to be decided in a second special session as special committee formed

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - With the Legislature deadlocked, lawmakers say that it’s all but certain that the 2019 Permanent Fund dividend will be decided in a second special session.

The Alaska Legislature voted Monday afternoon to form a special committee that would make recommendations on the long-term future of the Permanent Fund and the 2019 PFD.

The committee will be made up of four senators and four representatives and the committee is expected to work throughout the year, making non-binding recommendations to the rest of the Legislature.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy told reporters in May that the Legislature should meet in the interim to discuss the long-term future of the dividend.

Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s press secretary, did not say if the working group was the governor’s preferred format, only that Dunleavy believed in following the statutory dividend formula that calculates the PFD and that changing it should require a vote of the people.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, spoke about the advantages of a small committee, saying it would be less unwieldy than the entire legislature.

The eight members would discuss the history of the Permanent Fund to give context about what is happening now. Stedman insisted the committee process would be open to the public and “not clandestine.”

The plan though met opposition in both chambers. Rep. Ben Carpenter, R- Niksiki, said the Legislature should not postpone deciding on the PFD and bristled at the idea of a smaller committee taking on that role. “It’s an abrogation of our responsibility,” he said.

“This issue is important and should have the voice of every legislator in both bodies,” said Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, echoing her Kenai Peninsula colleague.

Members of the House majority said the committee could act as a circuit breaker for a debate that’s paralyzed the Legislature since oil prices fell in 2014 - what should happen with Permanent Fund and how should the dividend be calculated.

“To keep putting it off every year and to keep pulling a number out of the sky, I think has upset people more than anything else,” said Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole.

The resolution to form the committee passed through the House on a vote along caucus lines. Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, who sits with no caucus, voted against the proposal.

In the Senate, there were similar debates and disagreement. Sen Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, expressed the frustration of spending nearly 150 days in Juneau without resolution on the PFD.

“This is day, I don’t know what the heck day it is, it’s day a lot,” she said to laughter in the gallery. “And we’re all tired, it is time to get a new perspective, this fishbowl and air is very stale.”

Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, opposed the idea of forming the committee, saying lawmakers didn’t need an “elitist group” deciding the PFD. “We need to resolve this amongst ourselves,” she said.

The resolution narrowly passed through the Senate on an 11-9 vote. The committee’s first meeting is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Senate committee members
Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks
Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka
Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer

House committee members
Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage
Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks
Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka
Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River

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