FAIRBANKS - Let’s get it out of the way: This year’s Alaska Permanent Fund dividend is $2,072.
That’s the largest-ever payout to Alaskans by $3, but it also comes at a time that the state is facing dire financial woes.
It wasn’t lost on Gov. Bill Walker, who highlighted “the irony of this year” and saved the PFD figure until the end of what felt like one of the longest announcements in recent history.
“It will be a large one,” he said of the dividend. “Secondly, it’s the first time in Alaska’s history the earnings from the permanent fund have exceeded our earnings from oil. … This payout will be larger than the cost of education.”
According to this year’s budget, oil was expected to bring in $2.2 billion to the permanent fund’s $2.3 billion of anticipated earnings. Those projects for oil revenue were also based on oil that was nearly $20 more per barrel than it is currently. The checks will total about $1.33 billion — compared to the $1.3 billion spent on education — this year and will begin arriving in Alaskans’ bank accounts on Oct. 1.
Walker was joined by Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, the former executive director of the Permanent Fund Corporation, and Eric Wohlforth, a former member of the permanent fund trustees to talk about the history of the permanent fund and the future of the roughly $50 billion constitutionally protected savings account.
As state leaders scramble for ways to replace oil revenue that doesn’t appear likely to rebound anytime soon, the permanent fund’s earnings have come to the forefront as one possible solution, the others being a sales or income tax.
Wohlforth addressed those concerns, recognizing the pressures to change the permanent fund as well as the reliance many Alaskans have on the annual payment.
“Alaskans have to remember that the fund is theirs,” he said. “I urge every Alaskan to become an informed investor in the fund for their sake and the sake of the next generation.”
Later, while taking questions from reporters, Walker addressed the future of the dividend, noting that its size is set by a formula.
“How that formula might change over the years, that might be something that happens in this next session perhaps,” he said.
Walker has pledged to introduce legislation addressing the state’s financial situation with new revenues by the next time legislators gavel in for session.
Those conversations have already started to unfold as the governor works on taking the message of Alaska’s financial situation to the public. In addition to solutions for this year’s fiscal woes, Walker has often urged Alaskans to think about the future of Alaska.
“This really is about the next generation,” he said.
And the future was represented at the PFD announcement conference by Shania Sommer, a seventh-grade student at Palmer Jr. Middle School and a summer student in the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program.
“I hope this is an excused absence,” she said.
She said she has been saving her dividends to attend higher education in pursuit of an engineering degree to become a civil engineer or a criminal justice degree to become a trooper like her uncle.
“I have been saving my Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend to help pay for my college education, so I’m excited to tell you the amount of the 2015 Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend,” she said. “$2,072.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: