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Community Perspective

Get thee behind me, Permanent Fund golden calf

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Alaskans have taken a collective leap over the embankment of common sense.

We didn’t merely leave the road to the Church of Wisdom, we turned to the false political god of the Church of the Permanent Fund Dividend to lead us to the promised land.

Think about what Moses would do. Instead of leaving the Israelites on their own for 40 days during his hike up Mount Sinai to retrieve the Ten Commandments, what if he had climbed Denali and returned with a long-term fiscal plan for Alaska, only to see the people praying to the golden letters “PFD.”

He’d probably smash the tablet just the same as at Mount Sinai.

After 40 years of Permanent Fund dividends, maybe it’s too late for Alaskans to take a step back from the golden calf they idolize. Let’s hope not.

The governor’s increasingly strong insistence that a large dividend belongs in the state constitution is scary. Not just that it would put the annual PFD ahead of education and everything else, but that so many legislators, community leaders and the public support the idea.

Some support it because they believe their reelection world revolves around the dividend.

Some believe the PFD should be a constitutional right, similar to safety and education.

Some because they believe it helps lower-income Alaskans more than anything else in the state budget, and therefore belongs chiseled in the constitutional commandments.

And some believe that a majority of legislators and the public will never agree to the sustainable long-term state fiscal plan — meaning taxes — that we so desperately need unless the PFD goes into the constitution. It’s a political trade, and they are willing to cut a deal to enshrine a bad idea into the state’s highest laws.

Though the beliefs are sincere, they inappropriately elevate the dividend to an exalted status.

The dividend is an incredibly important addition to the household budget of many Alaskans and, hopefully, the state can continue the annual PFD for decades to come. But is it equal to the opening section in the constitution? Where it says: “All persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the rewards of their own industry.”

Happiness, sure, the PFD helps with that. But come on, is the dividend on a par with liberty?

The constitution also says: “All persons have corresponding obligations to the people and to the state.” It doesn’t say the state has an obligation to us; rather, that we have obligations to our neighbors and communities.

That means we work together for the common good in education, protecting freedoms of speech and religion and civil rights, public health and welfare — all of which are in the constitution, as they should be.

Adding to the constitution that there will be an annual dividend, and dedicating specific funding for the checks as the governor wants, would put it ahead of everything else at budget time.

Does Moses need to smack us upside the head with his tablet to bring back some common sense? 

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal service in oil and gas, taxes and policy work. He is currently owner and editor of the weekly Wrangell Sentinel newspaper.

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