Senate adds $1,000 stimulus checks before sending budget back to House

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, questions Assistant Attorney General William Milks in the Senate Judiciary Committee in Juneau on March 22, 2019. Milks was testifying on Senate Bills 23 and 24, which would compensate Alaskans for past cuts to the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.
Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, speaks in a committee meeting last year. On Monday, Shower proposed a $1,000 economic stimulus payment to everyone who received a 2019 permanent fund dividend. The Senate passed the proposal, 12-7, before passing the entire budget bill, 17-1. (Photo by Skip Gray/KTOO)

The Alaska Senate passed the state budget on Monday, including a $1,000 economic stimulus payment to everyone who received a permanent fund dividend last year.

Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower proposed the payment as an amendment to the budget bill. And he said federal stimulus isn’t certain.

“I would love that we did not have to do something like this right now, and that we could save the money moving forward,” Shower said. “But, again, we are betting on those things to happen, while people are suffering right now. It’s not a want. This is a need.”

Senators intend for the payments to be made immediately after the bill passes.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, speaks on the Senate floor in 2019 in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman opposed the stimulus payment. He said Alaskans will have specific needs — like food banks, housing, hospitals and ambulances — that would be better served with more targeted spending.

“We have a limited amount of funds,” Stedman said. “We need to be targeted in how we allocate them, so we don’t see a COVID-19 virus flying by like a flock of ducks, and we grab our 12-gauge and just shoot in the air and hope something falls out.”

The House passed the operating budget, House Bill 205, earlier this month. The Senate added the capital budget to the bill.

If the House doesn’t agree to the changes the Senate made, a conference committee would meet to hash out the differences between the two versions.

The stimulus payment would be drawn from the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve account. It would not follow a limit on spending from fund earnings passed in a 2018 state law.

The stimulus payment passed 12-7. The budget passed 17-1. Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold was the only “no” vote on the budget, saying that it contained no meaningful spending reductions.

Watch the latest legislative coverage from Gavel Alaska.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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