Community Perspective

Do not let the PFD divide us

Here we go again, another special session causing uncertainty and angst for all Alaskans all because our leaders have yet to provide a long-term solution for the permanent fund dividend and our budget issues.

As an Alaskan, a businessman and a neighbor who cares about our shared future, I am deeply saddened by what is happening in our state. This kind of irresponsible, knee-jerk policy-making lacks any consideration for how we will take care of those who most need help or how our children will grow to build their own success here at home.

I continue to believe Alaska is the best place to live and I know our future could be filled with opportunities for young people if our leaders choose a responsible path forward. You will be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t support budget cuts — they are a tough but necessary part of moving our state forward. But what the governor has proposed does not, in any way, put us on a path to success. So, why would he suggest these wide-ranging, devastating cuts that will hurt Alaska families and businesses? The Alaska Permanent Fund dividend … and his next campaign slogan.

The governor has decided that above all else, he prioritizes providing a $3,000 permanent fund dividend. To those who still believe this sounds enticing, please consider what we will lose: senior benefits, access to quality education, access to health care, public safety in rural Alaska and more.

These are not frivolous government expenditures but rather essential state services that provide for Alaskans and reflect our character, who we are as people.

To those (and I believe they are a significant minority) who believe it is your god-given right to have a full PFD above all else, you are wrong. The PFD was designed as a means for all Alaskans to collectively share in the resources of our state and find success together. The governor’s plan to attack basic government services for thousands of Alaskans is counterintuitive to that sacred Alaska vision. We are standing at the edge of a steep cliff — of the governor’s making — that will devastate families and businesses and make the road to shared success for Alaskans long and unnecessarily difficult.

One simple solution, as I have offered before, is to take as much as you can from the permanent fund earnings reserve account and put it in the corpus of the fund so it is out of the hands of politicians and off the bargaining table. Then, create a formula that has a responsible but meaningful amount that can be paid to Alaskans — ranging from $1,200-$2,000. Then, constitutionally protect the formula so it isn’t up for debate every year.

Simple and easy, but it takes some guts to do. Let’s move on before our state is forced over the edge and we cannot recover.

This is just one idea, but there are other options for compromise that will set us on a path for a stronger future. The governor’s plan is not one of those options.

We are facing a critical moment that will shape Alaska’s future and become part of our history as a people. Did we allow a distortion of a common-sense, shared Alaska vision like the PFD to supersede our responsibility to take care of one another or did we honor that vision by moving forward together and preparing ourselves for opportunity ahead?

To our leaders, if you are letting the permanent fund dividend divide us, you are undermining its very purpose. It is time to override the budget vetoes and get back to working for Alaskans.

To Alaskans, please continue to stand up and make your voices heard. Our leaders must hear from you because that is who they serve. There is simply too much at stake to stay silent. We must all work together to keep Alaska’s best days ahead of us. 

Mark Begich is a former U.S. senator and mayor of Anchorage. He was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2018.

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