PFD protection bill pre-filed; would safeguard dividends in AK Constitution

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) An Anchorage state lawmaker, who went to court to fight the governor's decision to cut this year PFD in half, now wants to protect future dividend payments in the Alaska State Constitution.

Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) has pre-filed a bill in advance of the 30th Alaska legislative session which he says would allow Alaskans a vote to safeguard the Permanent Fund Dividend in the state’s constitution.

In a press release Wednesday, Wielechowski said the principal or “corpus” of the fund is already constitutionally protected and cannot be spent, but the earnings of the fund can be appropriated by the legislature for any purpose.

Sen. Wielechowski says his bill would not preclude the use of the earnings reserve of the Permanent Fund by the legislature, but would require PFD checks to be paid first, utilizing the current formula and ensuring that the full dividend gets paid out every year.

“Article 8 of the Constitution already states that development of our common resources must be ‘for the maximum benefit of the people,’” said Wielechowski in his press release. “The vast majority of our resource wealth already goes to the government to spend as it wishes. This simply gives Alaskans the ability to ensure that we and future generations will always receive a small part of the benefits from our resources.”

If the legislation passes both the House and the Senate with a 2/3 vote, the question of whether the PFD program should be constitutionally protected will be put to the people via referendum on a statewide ballot.

Governor Bill Walker, with a veto last June, prevented $666.4 million from being transferred into the fund's earnings reserve, reducing the check Alaskans received in the fall. The cut was part of $1.3 billion in widespread vetoes and deferred state spending.

“If we don’t make a change in the dividend program, it goes away in four years" Walker said when he announced the veto.

Walker has said the unpopular decision was necessary to help preserve future PFDs in a time where the state is grappling with a more than $4 billion budget deficit.

Walker has previously said “We have been drawing down on our savings at a rate of $12 million a day. If we do not fix Alaska’s budget soon, we will have burned through the money available for future dividend checks,”

In defending his decision to cut the PFD roughly in half this year, Walker has said “The veto ensures the money will remain in the fund so checks will be available to future generations of Alaskans.

Governor Walker's press office said he was traveling Wednesday and unavailable for comment on the bill pre-filed by Sen. Wielechowski.

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