Alaska governor says permanent fund dividend formula must be approved by popular vote

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a press conference in front of Wasilla Middle School last week. On Wednesday, Dunleavy told a working group of state senators and representatives that any changes they propose to permanent fund dividends must be subject to a vote by the public. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy told a working group of state senators and representatives on Wednesday that any changes they propose to permanent fund dividends must be subject to a vote by the public.

“We all have to be on the same page and working in the same direction,” Dunleavy said. “If we’re not, we don’t get the issues dealt with. And so we need to have the people of Alaska with us.”

Dunleavy and lawmakers are engaged in a worthy discussion over the future of permanent fund earnings and dividends. It’s unusual for a governor to address a legislative committee. Dunleavy wished the eight working group members well.

“I know that once a final decision is made as to where we’re going to go with the PFD and the permanent fund, I think it opens up all kinds of avenues and possibilities for us to work together to move Alaska forward,” Dunleavy said.

The working group is aiming to make recommendations by July 2. Dunleavy has called the Legislature into its second special session this year on July 8. There’s only one item on the agenda: funding dividends.

Dunleavy wants lawmakers to pass a full dividend of roughly $3,000 under a 1982 state law. But this would conflict with a law passed last year that limits how much the state can draw from permanent fund earnings.

The working group heard roughly five hours of testimony on Wednesday about the history of the permanent fund and dividend.

Funding below 1982 level criticized

Dunleavy and members of the public have criticized the Legislature for funding dividends the last two years at less than the level under the 1982 law. Former Gov. Bill Walker was the first to reduce dividends by vetoing half of the amount three years ago.

Emily Nauman, a lawyer for the Legislature, noted the Alaska Constitution gives the Legislature the power to appropriate how much to spend on dividends.

“The Legislature has been consistently accused of not following the statutes, but I have to remind you that the law that the Legislature is bound by is the constitution,” she said.

The working group’s next meeting is scheduled for June 28.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada’s territorial premiers discuss priorities for a ‘united North’, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s new gov breezes through no-confidence vote over its agenda, Yle News

Sweden: Swedish government unveils proposed spring budget, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska working group seeks way forward on permanent fund dividend amid heated debate, Alaska Public Media

Andrew Kitchenman, Alaska Public Media & KTOO - Juneau

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