Walker says no way to avoid smaller PFD checks this fall in light of fiscal crisis
Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal to use part of the permanent fund to help solve the state’s unprecedented fiscal woes is struggling for support in the House.
Senate Bill 128 sets dividends at $1,000 for the next three years, essentially dropping the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend to half of the current calculation, starting with this fall’s dividends. The issue has been a sticking point among members of the House Finance Committee this week.
At a press conference Wednesday, Walker told reporters he is willing to compromise with legislators on most parts of the bill in order to gain votes for passage, but when asked whether this year’s dividend could be held harmless, Walker said no.
“There must be some modifications in that, and Senate Bill 128 isn’t about the size of the dividend,” he said. “There’s a whole lot more with 128 that deals with the formulaic draw down in future years. That’s a process, so, it’s not all just focused on the size of the dividend.”
The bill needs 21 votes to pass, which the governor’s administration said it doesn’t have yet. While concerns from legislators vary, members on both sides of the aisle agree that a vote on the permanent fund bill should wait.
“I think it needs to be our last alternative, not our first alternative,” said Rep. Craig Johnson, the House Rules Committee chair. “And it seems what this administration and some of the members of the House and Senate want to do is go after the permanent fund first and then we’ll fix government.”
“I don’t think doing the permanent fund solution at this point is in the correct order,” said Rep. Sam Kito, the House minority whip. “I do think that it’s poised, if we can get other pieces put together, we could actually make it out of here.”
Three tax bills on motor fuel, fishing and mining are poised for a vote on the House floor, but haven’t been brought to a vote because they don’t have enough support to pass. Walker said what happens with those bills and his income tax proposal will depend on passage of the permanent fund bill.
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