Since introducing my plan to provide Alaskans with $5,000 in economic relief during the worst economic crisis in Alaska’s history, I’ve seen no shortage of outlandish claims. Invariably, these arguments are made by folks who aren’t having any problems paying their bills in these difficult times.
I’d like to set a few things straight. My proposal is not a complicated one. While it’s part of my “Path Forward” budget, it could also be called “following the law.” The numbers are approximate, but the proposed relief consists of the $1,900 remaining from last year’s Permanent Fund dividend and a lawful $3,100 dividend for this year.
The most frequent argument against providing PFD relief is the cost. I’ll make this simple. We can pay a little over $3 billion now and see that money injected into back our economy as Alaskans spend it on the things they need to survive, or we can pay a much higher price later on in the form of welfare and state services.
We are on the backside of a once-in-a-100-year crisis. Last spring, we saw the shutdown of the modern world. Nearly a year later, some places still haven’t opened up. As I speak, we are working to mitigate a year-long Canadian cruise ship ban that will have an enormous impact on thousands of Alaskans.
In the last week alone, 183,000 Alaskans struggled to cover basic household expenses. Another 29,000 have fallen behind on their rent. Twenty percent of Anchorage businesses fear permanent closure, and that’s on top of those who’ve tragically gone under.
So when I hear folks throwing around the terms “massive,” “outsized,” or “spending spree,” I wonder if they understand what it costs to feed a family or pay the rent in our modern society. The implication that I should tell a single mom who’s been laid off for months that she should resist the “temptation” of a “big check” is frankly insulting.
The need for relief is universally agreed upon, and Alaska may be the only state in the country with the ability to help. By any metric, the Permanent Fund can afford to provide a lawful dividend. As I have continuously stated, this represents less than one year of fund growth.
Not only will this money be going directly into Alaskans pockets, much of it will make its way back into our economy. Restaurants, barbers, grocery stores, home repair businesses — everyone who runs a business in Alaska will receive a much-needed boost in revenue.
The best part is that the first portion of relief could be made available as soon as April. The bad news is that this requires certain elements of the Legislature to set aside their paralyzing internal drama and pass my Fiscal Year 2021 supplemental budget. The future of Alaska is not a game to be won or lost. If ever there was a time to rise above the usual politicking, it is now.
Ultimately, the debate about whether the Permanent Fund can afford to help Alaskans in their time of crisis is a misdirect. It clearly can.
What this boils down to is a desire to use the Permanent Fund to support government growth. Think about it. Is there any magic number by which the anti-PFD crowd will suddenly decide that Alaskans deserve more than table scraps? I’m willing to bet that “creative” reinterpretations of Gov. Hammond’s words and oversimplified compounding interest analogies will still be the focus of intense debate when the fund reaches $200 billion.
These arguments allow those who support terminating the dividend to continue using the Permanent Fund draw as a rainy-day account for government spending. It allows those who believe government should be the beneficiary of your PFD to ignore the hard reality that we’ve spent a little too much on operations in light of declining oil prices.
The irony is that I, too, believe in protecting the fund for future generations. If passed by the Legislature, my plan would guarantee the dividend in our constitution and require an advisory vote of the people to determine how future draws will be divided.
We can’t afford to allow the lawless dividend opponents to distract us with bad-faith arguments. As Alaskans, we understand the need for economic relief. The laid-off waitress in Anchorage understands it. The parent learning to homeschool their child on the fly understands it. The single mom who can’t afford her own medication understands it.
Now I need you to help our elected leaders understand it. Let your legislators know: It’s time to pass the supplemental funding bill. It’s time to get relief into the hands of Alaskans.
Mike Dunleavy is the 12th governor of Alaska.