Senate and governor at odds over size of 2019 PFD
A bid to pay Alaskans a full Permanent Fund dividend for the first time since 2015 fell short by a single vote on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 1002 originally proposed a $1,600 dividend — the same amount as last year — but the Senate passed an amendment, in a 10-8 vote, to raise the dividend. But a bill needs at least 11 to pass and the final vote on SB 1002 couldn't get past just 10 votes.
The bill, however, is not dead.
A provision allowing Senators to rescind their actions, thus forcing another vote, could produce a different outcome.
Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, has long said he prefers a full dividend and he, along with Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, were not on the floor. Shower is expected back on Friday.
For nearly two hours, the Senate debated on two amendments then the bill, which produced a vote that did not fall along party lines. Some lawmakers say a full dividend is not sustainable and puts the fund’s nearly $19 billion of earnings at risk. Dividend checks come the Permanent Fund’s earnings account.
“I want to make sure people of Alaska get a dividend for now and into the future, and I ain’t going to be part and parcel of walking through $19 billion,” said Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks. “I’m a no vote.”
Fellow Republican Senate Majority Leader Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, however, told her colleagues approving a PFD will help rebuild trust among Alaskans tired of the uncertainty over the dividend’s size.
“Madam President, today on this floor we have a chance to restore public trust that has been broken,” she said. “I support a full dividend until the statute is changed.”
Neither the House nor Dunleavy put a dividend in their respective budgets. Dunleavy offered a separate appropriations bill; the House chose to wait until the Senate completed its version of the budget.
The Senate originally approved a $3,000 dividend in its budget, knowing it would likely be a lower amount once the two chambers began negotiating differences in the operating budget.
Even with Tuesday's vote Gov. Mike Dunleavy says he's still hopeful that Alaskans will get a full dividend check this year, saying he expects lawmakers to follow state law.
"We need to follow the law just like we need to follow the constitution. My job is to execute the laws. The law on the books says that the calculation for the PFD will be a certain formula that this year spits out a $3000, or roughly there of, PFD. If the folks again want to change the law, I would urge them strongly to engage the people of Alaska," Dunleavy said.
The governor says he would consider a lower figure than the $3,000 amount, but only under certain circumstances.
"In the future if we change things and the people of Alaska are involved in that, in some form of a vote one way or the other, I would accept that, yes. But the people have to be involved in it," he said.
The special session ends June 14 and Dunleavy said the Legislature is running out of time. However, he hasn't given up on achieving an agreement on a statutory PFD.
"I'm optimistic that the statutes will be followed and we'll get a full PFD," the governor said.
In a prepared statement, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said lawmakers should focus on getting the operating budget to Dunleavy. The budget funds the next fiscal year that starts July 1.
“Today’s vote in the Senate perfectly illustrates why an operating budget has not yet been enacted: debate over the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend is consuming the Legislature,” Edgmon said.
“This is why we believe the Legislature should first pass a responsible budget to provide students, elders, and business leaders certainty in the critical services they rely on,” he said. “Then we can focus on the many important questions surrounding the future of the Permanent Fund.”
House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, says the debate could have been settled weeks ago had the House majority heard amendments on the PFD.
“Two months ago, we offered multiple amendments during the budget process that would have ensured that we would avoid costly special sessions,” he said. “Those amendments were not taken up. Instead, we still stand without an operating budget, a capital budget, a mental health budget, and K-12 education funding.
“The House Majority’s refusal to discuss what’s best for Alaska is doing long-term damage. It is well past time for the 24-member House Majority to pass a dividend, an operating budget, and fund education, as is required by the constitution.”
On Wednesday, lawmakers will wrap up their third week of the special session.
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