Alaska Permanent Fund

An $1,100 dividend cleared a final legislative hurdle Tuesday as the Senate passed a House-approved budget bill with the Permanent Fund payment.

On a 12-7 vote, the Senate passed House Bill 3003. The bill now advances to Gov. Mike Dunleavy for his signature. The governor also has the ability to veto the bill.

Still unresolved is the status of funds in a constitutional budget reserve to help cover the payout to Alaskans. “Our guidance from legislative legal is that these are good funds and legitimate to appropriate,” Sen. Bert Stedman, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said prior to the vote.

Stedman said there may be a “different interpretation” from the Dunleavy administration, “which will need to be sorted out.”

The budget bill also restores $400,000 in funding to Alaska Legal Services, which Dunleavy had deleted through line-item veto in June. The agency provides free civil legal services to low-income Alaskans.

The budget bill provides for $54 million in oil and gas tax credits as well, Stedman said.

Prior to passage, the Senate voted on amendments for higher dividends that failed to pass. They included a $3,800 dividend sponsored by Sen. Michael Shower and co-sponsored by Sen. Laura Reinbold.

“Why are we going to count on federal money when we have our own money available to us?” Shower asked.

But Stedman spoke against the $3,800 dividend.

“This would breach the 5% spending limit we are up against, thereby ignoring our own spending limit,” Stedman said.

He noted that money from the Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve also is needed to pay for critical state services, such as exemptions for senior citizens and school bond debt reimbursement.

Sen. David Wilson proposed a $2,350 dividend, which also was defeated. Wilson noted the amendment supported Dunleavy’s proposal for the same amount, which the governor had sought to guarantee in the state Constitution.

The $1,100 dividend adopted Tuesday is higher than the 2020 payment of $992. Checks are typically awarded 30 days after they are finalized in the Legislature.

The 2021 amount has been at the center of a legislative dispute with the governor and between lawmakers that delayed the payment.

In June, Dunleavy had vetoed a $525 dividend adopted by both chambers, which he had described as “a joke.’’

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