Alaska House rejects full PFD amendments during budget debates

The Alaska House has rejected amendments to pay a full statutory dividend this year.
Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 7:28 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska House of Representatives debated nearly two dozen proposed amendments to the operating budget on Tuesday, many dealing with the size of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend.

The operating budget came to the House floor with a dividend of roughly $1,250 and a separate one-time energy relief check of $1,300. It still needs to pass the House, and get support from the Senate and Gov. Mike Dunleavy before those checks go out to Alaskans.

Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, introduced the first amendment to the budget to instead approve a statutory dividend at a cost of almost $2.8 billion. It would pay a PFD of roughly $4,200 per eligible Alaskan in 2022.

“Our constituents are hurting, madam Speaker, they absolutely need this PFD in their hands,” McCabe said.

Advocates of a full PFD cited high inflation and the high cost of fuel as hurting Alaskans economically. They argued, too, that the billions of dollars in unexpected revenue coming to Alaska from high oil prices means the state can afford a larger dividend.

Several members of the bipartisan House majority coalition argued against paying a statutory dividend along sustainability lines. Rep. Geran Tarr, an Anchorage Democrat, said her district is one of Alaska’s poorest but spending more now could cause problems in the future.

“We’re going to need to be able to pay for the budget next year and the year after and the year after that,” she said.

Legislators narrowly rejected adding a full statutory dividend to the operating budget on an 18-21 vote, which did not fall neatly along caucus lines.

Rep. Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage), Rep. Neal Foster (D-Nome) and Rep. Josiah Patkotak, a nonaffiliated legislator from Utqiagvik, voted with most House minority Republicans in favor of it. Rep. Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage), who doesn’t sit with either caucus, also voted for a full PFD.

Republican Reps. James Kaufman, Bart LeBon, and Steve Thompson joined most of the House majority coalition in voting against it.

Discussions turned to paying a 50-50 dividend, at roughly $2,500, coupled with calls to find hundreds of millions of dollars of new revenue annually to bridge anticipated fiscal gaps. The model came from the bipartisan and bicameral fiscal policy working group’s report from last year.

That vote was rejected along similar lines, but debates about a long-term fiscal plan could take place again later in the session. The Senate Finance Committee is hearing a bill to rewrite the dividend formula to pay a 50-50 PFD which would be contingent on the Legislature approving $800 million of new recurring revenues.

The operating budget is set to be back on the House floor on Wednesday morning before it is expected to pass across to the Senate later in the week.

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