When Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy agreed to accept the Legislature’s proposed $1,600 permanent fund dividend earlier this year, he said he would keep pushing for a supplemental payment in the fall.
Dunleavy campaigned on paying Alaskans a “full PFD” — the amount they’d receive under a 1982 law that ties the payments to the permanent fund’s investment returns. And when he signed legislation for the $1,600 payment, he suggested that he’d likely convene a special session on the supplemental dividend in the fall to bring the total dividend to closer to $3,000.
But at a news conference Friday, a special session sounded unlikely, as Dunleavy said he’s waiting to call one until the state Senate approves his nominee to fill a vacant seat.
“Once this piece is in place, again, those discussions will continue,” Dunleavy said at the news conference, held at his Anchorage office. “And I have to be hopeful that everyone wants a resolution on this issue. This is the issue that divides and unites Alaskans.”
Lawmakers arrived at the $1,600 dividend somewhat arbitrarily. First, they relied on a law passed last year that says the annual withdrawal from the permanent fund should be about 5% of its value. How that money is divided, though, is up to lawmakers — and they decided to use most of it to pay for government services, leaving the rest for dividends.
Dunleavy wanted lawmakers to stick to the 1982 law, which would have set aside about $2,900 for each recipient. But the Legislature has the power to ignore that law, and it did this year, with lawmakers arguing that the state couldn’t afford to pay dividends at that level while sustaining the size of government.
Legislators have expressed interest in passing a bill that would determine how much of each year’s permanent fund revenue goes towards dividends, and how much goes toward the government. And that could help them avoid a time-consuming debate on the issue every year.
But when it comes to the question of how much money should be set aside for dividends each year, lawmakers are still divided among themselves, and many of them have sharply different views than Dunleavy. And that means a special session is unlikely to be very productive right now, they said in interviews Friday.
Fairbanks Republican Rep. Steve Thompson, who’s part of the House of Representatives’ majority coalition, says there’s not exactly a lot of enthusiasm for a special session, anyway. That’s because legislators already stayed in Juneau for months of extra time this year.
“After a seven-month session, they’re looking at trying to get some vacations,” he said in a phone interview.
State law requires Dunleavy to give the Legislature a month’s notice before calling a special session. And that means he’s running out of time to avoid conflicts with holidays.