These days the Alaska Permanent Fund seems to be a permanent source of angst. Debates over the amount of the dividend and the use of the earnings to pay for state government keep the pot boiling.

Not that we aim to add fuel to the fire on this week’s Frontiers program, but we thought this is a good time to take a step back and look at what this uniquely Alaskan institution provides for the state.

Despite all the political tensions in the backdrop, there’s still an air of excitement in October. The extra shot of cash makes the Alaskan pursuit of happiness full of promise.

Many have likened the Permanent Fund to that proverbial goose with the golden eggs, which has yielded a steady supply since 1982 – a cumulative $25 billion in dividends, money that’s changed the state in some surprising ways.

We’ll look at some of the long-term and short-term impacts of the fund – as well as the growing fear that state policies have put Alaska’s golden egg producer in mortal danger.

Here are some of this week’s highlights:

  • The golden eggs: A visit to the popular Fire Island Bakery in downtown Anchorage to find out how Alaskans are spending their PFD’s. We also visit with Mouhcine Guettabe, an economist at the Institute of Economic and Social Research, to see how this annual windfall helps the state in some surprising ways. 

The Permanent Fund Defenders argue that the best protection for the fund is a full dividend, based on the traditional formula. Had that been the case this year, Alaskans would have received a PFD of about $3,000.

Others say we need to cut the dividend to save the dividend – to prevent a raid on the corpus of the fund, when the state completely runs out of money.

In this week’s program, we gave the Defenders the lion’s share of the time. In the past, we’ve heard more from other perspectives, such as those who feel it makes no sense to pay huge dividends in the face of massive cuts to state services, especially those that serve the most vulnerable – so consider this another installment in an ongoing conversation on the Permanent Fund. In the future, I’d like to do a show which looks at the efforts of the legislature’s Bicameral Permanent Fund Working Group. This group of lawmakers is taking a methodical look at the history of the fund to guide us towards what we hope will be wise choices.

When we look back to the days when the state constitution was written -- and later, during the battle to create the Permanent Fund, we were lucky to have so many leaders who tried to look 20, 30, 40 years into the future and not just the next election.  

It would be quite a thing indeed, if 25, 50 years down the road, the Permanent Fund still paid dividends – along with a sense of sanity and predictability restored to Alaska’s budget process. 

 

 

Here are some links to some previous Frontiers episodes on the Permanent Fund and the dividend.

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