Who should get the final say on restructuring Alaska's Permanent Fund?
Should Alaskans have the final say if policymakers pass a plan to use Permanent Fund earnings to help pay for government?
That question came up this week in the state Capitol when Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, offered an amendment to one of the proposed overhauls currently working its way through the Legislature.
Sen. Bert Stedman's Senate Bill 21 would establish a percent of market value (POMV) system that annually draws 4.5 percent of the value of state's $57.2 billion investment account. The Sitka Republican's plan would put half of the revenue toward government services and use the other half to keep paying the yearly dividends Alaskans have received since 1982.
Some variant of that plan is widely seen as a necessary piece of a solution to state government's $3 billion budget gap: the Independent governor, Democrat-led House, and Republican controlled Senate have all proposed restructures of their own.
When S.B. 21 was up for consideration in the Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Dunleavy, who chairs the committee, offered up an amendment. His proposal would have made it so the bill includes a stipulation that, if it becomes law, a special election would be held so voters have a direct opportunity to confirm or reject changes to the Permanent Fund.
Dunleavy said the move is necessary "because the people of Alaska created this fund," he said in an interview. "Back in the seventies, (Alaskans) wanted to make sure there was money kept from legislators."
However, the amendment failed, 2-to-2 with the other supportive vote coming from Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla. Sens. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, and Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, opposed the measure; Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole was absent. (Under legislative rules, motions that end in a tie do not move forward.)
Giessel said she voted against the measure because she believes her constituents sent her to Juneau to make tough calls on the budget.
"To say that we are going to pass this off to citizens simply abdicates us doing our own job," she said. "We were elected to come here and make those hard decisions."
"For the most part, people send us down here to make decisions on their behalf as a representative in our representative form of government," Dunleavy said in response to Giessel's assertion. "But I do think there are issues such as the Permanent Fund that we should involve the people because they're partners in this fund."
Even though his amendment failed, Dunleavy allowed the bill to move out of his committee and on to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration. Still, he said his proposal may resurface again as the contentious debate over tapping into the state's largest cash reserve continues.