Permanent fund dividend amount to be a focus in session’s closing days

The Alaska House majority caucus holds a press conference about their approach to the closing days of the legislative session, May 10, 2019. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska House majority caucus holds a press conference on Friday about their approach to the closing days of the legislative session. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

The size of permanent fund dividends will be at the center of talks between the House, the Senate, and Governor Mike Dunleavy as the Legislature aims to end its session on Wednesday.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent, said the politically diverse House majority caucus remains united behind being responsible with the budget.

“Clearly, the permanent fund dividend is critical to Alaskans,” Edgmon said. “We know that, but we also want tomorrow’s generation to have a permanent fund dividend, as well as to have their school open today and school open tomorrow, so it’s a big decision.” 

The House majority caucus held a press conference on Friday to signal its positions heading into the closing days of the session. The caucus has 15 Democrats, seven Republicans and two independents.

The House’s version of the budget leaves room for a roughly $1,200 PFD. The Senate’s version would have a full PFD of roughly $3,000 under a state law passed in 1982.

Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster said the majority doesn’t plan to draw down the permanent fund’s earnings reserve for a $3,000 PFD.

“Yeah, it’s just not sustainable,” he said. “The money is just not there for that. And so … it’s not likely that we’re going to go there.”

The Senate budget would require the state to spend roughly $1.2 billion from fund earnings beyond what’s outlined in a law that passed last year.

But North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson says the PFD size isn’t settled. She also said the Legislature could pass a bill that changes how the dividend is set.

“We’re still looking at a possible bill to look more at the dividend and how we structure that and how it works,” she said. “Right now, it’s just putting all of the pieces together.”

The operating and capitals budgets and a major crime bill are the major issues left this year, other than the size of the dividend. 

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