House narrowly approves full dividend payment
The House Monday afternoon narrowly approved a budget amendment that would provide an estimated $2,700 Permanent Fund Dividend this year.
That’s more than twice what Gov. Bill Walker proposed.
It would also add about $900 million to the state’s operating budget, currently proposed at $4.5 billion for agency and other statewide operations.
So far, the House has spent five days on the budget, inching closer to a vote, but still stuck on debating amendments. The prolonged process reflects the Legislature’s four-year battle to close a budget gap that sits at $2.3 billion-- but was once nearly $4 billion.
Numerous ideas have come and gone. The Legislature has turned back several tax proposals – including an income tax – by Walker and the Democratic led-House majority.
It also couldn’t agree on whether a spending limit should first be drafted into law then later enshrined in the constitution.
It’s all been done against the backdrop of a sluggish economy with one of the nation’s worst unemployment rates.
Some lawmakers see Monday’s vote as another divisive economic proposal.
“This is one of the battles on the way to a fiscal plan,” said Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage), who voted against the amendment in the 21-19 outcome. “It’s not the war-- it’s a skirmish in the war.
“I will say, the Legislature collectively has been masterful at avoiding reaching the final conclusion. This is like the longest movie you’ve ever seen with multiple intermissions and an overture to start.
The dividend has been politically difficult for several years. Two years ago Walker cut the dividend to $1,022, setting aside a formula that would have paid out nearly twice that. And he’s still having to answer for it.
Last year, the Legislature followed suit and an approved $1,100 dividend, which Walker upheld.
Dividend money comes from the Permanent Fund’s earnings, also known as an earnings reserve account. But, for the first time in the state’s history, earnings must also help cover a $2.3 billion budget gap
Budget votes normally fall along caucus lines, but this one created uncommon alliances. It was an unusual party line crossing that may never be seen again this year.
Democrats Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Josephson, and Independent Dan Ortiz sided with Republicans Mike Chenault and Chris Birch and voted no.
Wasilla Republicans David Eastman and Cathy Tilton lined up with Democrats Justin Parrish and amendment sponsor Chris Tuck and voted yes.
“Reducing a PFD will hit kids and elderly the hardest and that’s a demographic that’s in every district,” said House Finance co-chair Neal Foster (D-Nome). “I support a full PFD and if we can’t agree on a full PFD, I support the largest PFD possible
Fellow Democrat Adam Wool (Fairbanks) disagreed.
“To keep the PFD program going, I don’t think we should pull a billion out of the piggy bank that supplies it right now,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world.”
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: