The House/Senate Permanent Fund Dividend Working Group met for the first time Wednesday morning to begin discussing the future of the state’s permanent fund and yearly dividend checks, a topic that has haunted the Legislature each spring with an annual tug-of-war between lawmakers who wish to pay the full statutory dividend and others who would prefer to use some of the earnings for state government.
The working group, born of a session-long wrestle between the two schools of thought, is made up of four members from each body who will work to find compromise and a path forward in time to pass a bill on to Gov. Mike Dunleavy for review and tentative signature.
The governor has held fast to his campaign promise to distribute a full $3,000 dividend according to current state statute to all eligible Alaskans. In order to achieve this, Dunleavy introduced his operating budget, which included budget cuts to nearly every state agency. Since then however, the Legislature has tossed the governor’s budget and worked through the conference committee process to pass its own earlier this week.
To the chagrin of some of the more conservative lawmakers, a majority of state senators and representatives don’t support a full dividend, displaying their strength in numbers by voting down each bill and amendment brought forward to achieve such a payout.
The House Republican Minority introduced such an amendment to the House capital budget Wednesday afternoon, defending its long-held stance that Alaskans deserve the full annual payout to the detriment of state funded services.
Members of the House Minority urged their fellow House members to approve the amendment, threatening to withhold their votes on the capital budget as a whole if the amendment were to be rejected.
Ultimately however, the amendment failed by a 21-15 vote along caucus lines.
Of the six Fairbanks area representatives: Fairbanks Democratic Reps. Adam Wool and Grier Hopkins and Fairbanks Republican Reps. Steve Thompson and Bart LeBon voted against the amendment. North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson and Healy Republican Rep. Dave Talerico voted in favor of the full payout. Talerico is the only Fairbanks area representative who is part of the House Republican Minority.
According to Wool, who is a member of the bicameral working group, the goal is to come up with a plan for this year’s dividend while also addressing a lingering issue that lies within a state statute that has been violated for three years in a row.
The governor, in sticking with his previous mantra, spurned the House’s rejection of the amendment in a statement he posted to his official Facebook page Wednesday afternoon.
“While this was a disappointing vote, now we at least know which legislators support a full PFD and which legislators support taking the PFD to continue the growth of government and an unsustainable budget,” the post read. “I said it before and I’ll say it again, the Legislature’s job is not over until it passes a full statutory PFD for Alaskans.”
The legislative working group will meet again to continue the discussion at 9:30 a.m today.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.
Correction: North Pole Republican Tammie Wilson voted in favor of the bill. Earlier versions of this story were incorrect.