UPDATE: Alaska lawmaker plans appeal in dividend case
A state senator who challenged Gov. Bill Walker's cut to the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend this year plans to appeal a judge's decision that found that Walker acted within his authority.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage said it was always expected that the case would be decided by the Alaska Supreme Court.
Wielechowski and two former legislators brought the case, arguing the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. was obligated by law to make available nearly $1.4 billion from the fund's earnings reserve for dividends, in spite of a Walker veto reducing that amount.
But following intense questioning of their case during arguments Thursday, Superior Court Judge William Morse sided with the state, saying governors in Alaska hold significant authority to reduce or eliminate spending.
Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said the state was confident in the advice it had given the governor. But she noted that Thursday's decision was just one step in the case.
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - A state court judge has ruled that Gov. Bill Walker had the authority to reduce this year's Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.
Superior Court Judge William Morse's decision followed arguments presented by both sides in the case in Anchorage.
He said he expected the issue ultimately will be decided by the Alaska Supreme Court.
State Sen. Bill Wielechowski and two former lawmakers brought they lawsuit. They argued that the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. was obligated by law to make available nearly $1.4 billion from the fund's earnings reserve for dividends, in spite of a Walker veto reducing that amount.
Attorneys for the state say Walker properly exercised his veto authority.
Morse sided with the state, saying governors in Alaska hold significant authority to reduce or eliminate spending.
ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Much is at stake in a case involving two cornerstone programs of the Alaska government: The permanent fund itself, and the Permanent Fund Dividend.
The lawsuit filed by Anchorage State Senator Bill Wielechowski, alleging Governor Bill Walker overstepped his authority in vetoing a portion of Permanent Fund Dividend-dedicated monies earlier this year, will hit the courtroom Thursday morning.
Claiming the money for checks is dedicated funding and cannot be reduced by the governor, the lawsuit questions the constitutionality of Gov. Walker’s decision and legality of the Permanent Fund Corporation’s end result.
Gov. Walker however reportedly vetoed the money in response to the state’s fiscal crisis.
"We're trying to fix the fiscal crises that we're in," Gov. Walker said. "We're trying to use the tools we believe are available to us.
"As unpleasant and difficult as that is, I'm willing to do it for the long-term good of Alaska and Alaskans, so that next generations have a dividend program," he said.
The state is arguing that the money is an appropriation – rather, a sum of money dedicated to special or specific purpose – and thus can be vetoed or adjusted.
But not everyone agrees.
Senator Wielechowki's case, for example, centers on laws that ban the state from dedicating money for specific purposes.
"They intended to allow the legislature to set up a structure where they could dedicate income from the permanent fund to either a dividend, or to bonds or securities," he said. "This is very clear in the legislative record."
If the law allows funds to be dedicated to a dividend, Wielechowski said, then it can't be vetoed.
A considerably complex case, the lawsuit stems in part from that question of constitutionality of Gov. Walker’s move that vetoed about half the money needed to fund this year’s PFD checks, and thus ended up cutting the dollar amounts of those checks, reducing the amount provided to individuals from more than $2,000 to around $1,000.
Whether the governor’s decision stands will soon be up to a judge: Opening statements will take place at the Nesbett Courthouse in downtown Anchorage Thursday morning at 9 a.m.
The end ruling could have a major impact on Alaskans themselves as well as some of the Last Frontier’s most treasured institutions.
If Superior Court Judge William Morse - who will preside over the case Thursday - agrees with the state, he could rule state law bans the dedication of funds. In that case, for example, the state couldn’t approve a gasoline tax and have the money go directly toward road maintenance. All revenue would have to go into the general fund.
If Judge Morse rules in favor of the state, the Governor’s decision, veto and all, will stand.
On the other hand, he could uphold the lawsuit and declare that Gov. Walker did in fact overstep his bounds in lowering those funds available for PFD check distribution. That would mean Alaskans could potentially get a second PFD payment.
Whatever is decided, an appeal to the State Supreme Court remains in the cards.
A live stream will be available at KTUU.com as soon as the hearing begins, right around 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 17.