State senator to file lawsuit Friday over PFD cut
Updated at 3:23 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, says he will file a lawsuit against the Permanent Fund Corp. on Friday at 10:30 a.m., in response to Gov. Bill Walker’s veto in June to cut dividends to $1,000 this fall.
Prior to the governor’s action, original estimates placed this year’s payout at more than $2,000.
Thursday marked the end of a 10-day window in which Wielechowski said he would be filing the suit. He says he will be filing jointly with people from across the aisle, but that he isn’t authorized to give their names yet. The Anchorage Democrat says he’s waited to file until now because he needed time to research his case.
“I’ve got my legislative job. I’ve got, you know, my other job. I’ve got, you know, other things going on and this has certainly taken an enormous amount of time and energy to do and I’m moving as fast as I can,” Wielechowski said in an interview Thursday. “It’s going back 40 years and listening to literally dozens and dozens of hours of tape and reviewing thousands and thousands of documents, and it’s just taken a long time.”
Permanent fund dividend checks will go out to Alaskans in just three weeks, on Oct. 6. Wielechowski says he is asking that the suit be expedited, but he can’t promise it will be decided in time to prevent the diminished dividend from being paid out.
“It could be decided a day after, a week after… a month after, a year after, I just don’t know,” Wielechowski said. “Sometimes, you know, if it goes to the Supreme Court that could be two years later.”
Jason Brandeis, a lawyer and associate professor who specializes in constitutional law at the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center, says Alaskans shouldn’t be too optimistic that their check amount will change next month.
“It’s not a lot of time and — if I were a betting man — if I had to bet on this, I would say no. But it’s possible,” Brandeis said.
A spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Law agreed.
“It is extremely rare for a court case to be resolved in three weeks,” said Cori Mills, spokesperson for the department, which will represent the Permanent Fund Corp. if a suit is filed. “The senator could have filed his lawsuit two months ago, and setting an arbitrary timeline based on when checks go out is unreasonable and unnecessary.”
Wielechowski says neither he nor the Department of Law will ask the judge to block checks from going out on time because of the case. If the court rules in his favor after the Oct. 6 deadline, he hopes a judge will require the additional money be paid to Alaskans at a later date.
Meanwhile, some Alaskans have been counting on a $2,000 check since last year. Mary O’Brien has been homeless for the last six years, relying sometimes on shelters.
“I’ve lived in people’s couches and homes,” O’Brien said. “I’ve lived in cars.”
O’Brien finally moved into an apartment two weeks ago, but because of disabilities she says keep her from being able to work, she now worries about whether she’ll be able to keep the place.
“Without that thousand dollars, which I’ve budgeted for each aspect of my life, I can’t do it, I can’t make it through the winter,” O’Brien said.
She said she sees Wielechowski’s lawsuit as a last hope.
“What are you going to do to help us if we don’t have our full permanent fund check?” O’Brien said she’s asking of government officials.