Full Interview: Sen. Natasha von Imhof discusses the PFD
The interview above is transcribed below, edited for clarity and length.
MEGAN MAZUREK: With an operating budget passed and the capital budget making progress through the House, the Legislature is still working on a compromise on how much your Permanent Fund dividend should be. The House and Senate has created a joint task force to solve this problem. And joining us live from Juneau tonight to discuss the PFD is Senate Finance Committee Co-chair Natasha von Imhof. Thanks for joining us tonight.
SENATOR NATASHA VON IMHOF: Thank you, I’m very glad to be here tonight. Thank you.
MAZUREK: The House and Senate approved establishing a PFD task force. What value do you see with this group?
SENATOR: Well we’ve been here in Juneau since January and we’ve been working on the operating budget and the capital budget among other bills, the crime bill as well. And the Permanent Fund has been a topic permeating the entire session and all discussions and we have not addressed it yet. We are kind of at a stalemate at this point, so we felt that a working group would provide us a fresh perspective, a new way of looking at it. Maybe stepping away from Juneau for a little bit -- we kind of call it “the fish bowl” here -- and talking to people outside of Juneau, maybe economists and financial analysts, and folks that understand how the dividend works in financial markets. I mean, the way that we kind of look at it is, we’ve been doing the same thing for five months and the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and hoping for a different outcome and so a working group is, hopefully, getting a different outcome.
MAZUREK: And you’ve been outspoken about this, but why is a $3,000 dividend too high?
SENATOR: It’s important to remember, that costs $1.9 billion to pay and we just can’t afford that and if we want to protect the Permanent Fund over the long term, we can’t take unstructured draws from the fund or we will erode it over time.
MAZUREK: And some believe a constitutional change will put an end to this annual argument about the PFD amount, how much it should be. What are your thoughts on an amendment?
SENATOR: Well I’m worried about putting anything in the constitution that is an appropriation. We don’t have anything in it in our constitution now and I thin kit would be a big mistake that erodes our fiscal flexibility in the future because you don’t know what the future holds.
MAZUREK: And as you mentioned the Senate right now is split. What do you think it would take right now to get a majority approval?
SENATOR: This working group is going to start their work tomorrow is my understanding and I think they’re gonna start with looking at the history of the fund and looking to see what has been deposited in the fund over time that’s been mineral wealth and then what the expectations are of the fund may be in the future and then maybe work with the commissioner of revenue to see what our total state budget might be in the future and what we might expect and then we have to try to look at our entire budget, all of our expenses, including the Permanent Fund and then trying to set a reasonable calculation that we can afford over time into future generations.
MAZUREK: So do you think this working group will last longer than the three days left that we have?
SENATOR: Oh yeah, yeah. I think that we’re probably in for another special session. And I’m not really sure when that’s going to start but I know that the working group is going to start their work tomorrow. And they’re going to take a couple weeks I think to really look at all the different options and talk to folks and then we may have to have a special session at that point to get the whole legislature together to work on it.
MAZUREK: Alright, state Senator Natasha von Imhof, thank you for your time tonight.
SENATOR: Thank you.
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