Interior Democrats

From left, Rep. Grier Hopkins, Sen. Scott Kawasaki, and Rep. Adam Wool. News-Miner

Interior Democrats serving in the Legislature warn that another veto of the Permanent Fund dividend could yield unintended consequences, including no payment for Alaskans in 2021.

The House passed a spending bill on Aug. 31 that would fund dividends at $1,100. The budget bill was heard Wednesday in the Senate Finance Committee.

Alaskans could still get a smaller check, estimated at $600, since nearly half the funds would come from an account that lawmakers failed to replenish for fiscal 2022.

Interior Democrat lawmakers interviewed by the News-Miner also shared views on Gov. Mike Dunleavy's proposals for the Permanent Fund Dividend program.

Rep. Adam Wool: ‘I do not want to end up with a zero PFD’

Rep. Adam Wool warned that “if the governor is smart,” he will not veto the Permanent Fund dividend for a second time in 2021.

“The governor should sign the bill that we pass to him, and if he wants more PFD money he can make a case for that and try to get us to support that in the future,” Wool told the News-Miner. “If the governor is smart, he will not veto the PFD that the Legislature passes.”

The PFD payout to Alaskans has been delayed in a dispute between lawmakers and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who vetoed a $525 dividend in June.

The Fairbanks Democrat said that Alaskans need the dividend now, because they are hurting financially since the pandemic canceled jobs and idled businesses.

“The people that need the PFD need it sooner than later,” Wool said, “and even though it may not be the amount that [Dunleavy] and some others would like, it’s the amount that a majority of the elected legislators feel is the best amount or at least the closest for most of us.”

Wool warned that if the governor vetoes the PFD, “opposition” is likely to strengthen. The whole process could grind to a halt, he said.

“If we were to go back for another special session, I’m not sure what would change that would make us change the PFD amount,” Wool said.

“It may just strengthen the resolve from those of us who don’t agree with the governor’s PFD desires. I do not want to end up with a zero PFD, so hopefully the governor won’t veto what the Legislature passes,” he said.

Wool said his big concern about the governor’s “50-50 plan” to fund dividends and state services equally is overdrawing the Permanent Fund.

“I do not favor a larger PFD similar to the 50-50 amount,” he said. “It gives away too much of the main source of revenue that the state currently has.”

Rep. Grier Hopkins: ‘Legislature is open to compromise’

Lawmakers are working hard to send a large dividend to Alaskans, while keeping the state fiscally sound and stable.

Rep. Grier Hopkins, a Fairbanks Democrat, offered a message of moderation as lawmakers consider the future of the Permanent Fund Dividend program. They are meeting in a third special session that ends Sept. 14.

“Balancing fiscal conservatism and responsibility with supporting Alaskans is a compromise effort,” he said.

A Senate committee this week has considered a budget bill with an $1,100 Permanent Fund dividend adopted in the House.

But Dunleavy has called for a dividend that is more than double that size, as well as constitutional protections for the Permanent Fund Dividend program.

“I hope the governor understands the Legislature is being responsible and is open to compromise at this first step of the fiscal plan process,” Hopkins said.

If the governor vetoes the PFD for a second time this year, Hopkins said he would be “very disappointed, because we are working hard to deliver the biggest dividend in three years to Alaskans.”

Added Hopkins: “We must compromise in this world, but if the governor doesn’t want a dividend this year, that’s unfortunate for Alaskan families.”

Hopkins opposes Dunleavy’s call for a 50-50 split to equally fund dividends and state operations, because it would “raid the Permanent Fund.”

“If the governor and others want broad-based revenue to support a larger dividend, I welcome that discussion,” Hopkins said. “But we cannot give up our long term health for short term gain.”

Sen. Scott Kawasaki: ‘I voted for a larger PFD’

Sen. Scott Kawasaki would like to see a higher dividend that has support in both chambers.

“I’m hopeful that we can come to a compromise with the House and support a higher PFD amount, like the one that passed the Senate at $2,350,” he said. “It is a challenging time for many working families and small businesses.”

Kawasaki said that the difficult economy warrants a higher  payment to help out Alaskans. “I voted for a larger amount for the PFD, given the Covid-19 situation and the need for the Legislature to honor our responsibility to the law,” he said.

The Fairbanks senator believes that lawmakers can resolve differences over a shared goal.

“The money is there today. We also need a comprehensive fiscal plan that respects the PFD and balances the needs and wants of our Alaskans today and tomorrow,” he said.

Contact Linda F. Hersey at 907-459-7575 or lhersey@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.