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The PFD does not belong in the state constitution

PFDs do not belong in Alaska’s constitution.

The original duty of citizens to our state in 1959, and now, is to make sure Alaska can fulfill its constitutional obligations of protecting all citizen’s rights and to pay for a functioning government. Each citizen has obligations to the people as a whole and to the state; these obligations are the “price” of calling yourself an Alaskan citizen. Citizenship is a promise to other Alaskans and to Alaska to form a government which will guarantee our rights; there is corresponding obligation of the citizens to financially support the state. Shoulder your obligation as a citizen; be more than a resident. Concerns much larger than individual economic interests are at stake when considering whether to elevate PFDs into a constitutional right. Do not put PFDs in the constitution.

It is easy to understand why so many want to get PFD payments. What is baffling is why so many seem not to be worried about sustaining a functioning state government. Creating a constitutional right to PFD payments is a bad idea; long-term, neither the PFD payments nor a functioning government would survive.

Why do I immediately reject a constitutional right to PFDs? Because I do not consider PFD payments to be an “inherent” right recognized in our constitution such as the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Additionally, I do not consider PFD payments to be of constitutional magnitude such as civil rights [Art. 1 sec. 3] or freedom of religion [Art. 1 sec. 4] or freedom of speech [Art. 1 sec. 5] or search and seizure rights [Art. 1 sec. 14] or right to keep and bear arms [Art. 1 sec. 19] or right of privacy [Art. 1 sec. 22]. Alaska and its constitution were created to guarantee human rights. False thinking equates receiving an economic interest, the PFD, with existing constitutional obligations of government to protect human rights. The very thought of creating in Alaska’s constitution a right to receive PFDs cheapens and degrades citizen’s rights which are currently part of Alaska’s constitution.

There is a corresponding obligation upon each citizen to pay for and maintain: 1) the 3 branches of government [Articles II, III and IV], elections [Art. V], and health, education and welfare [Art. VII]. The citizen’s obligation is reflected in the last phrase of Art. I sec. 1: “all persons have corresponding obligations to the people and to the state…”. For example, the state’s constitution contains the obligation [Art. VII sec. 1]: “The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children …” Education of our children is fundamental and a constitutional obligation upon the people and the state. Alaskans, when becoming the 49th state, promised the United States we would be financially capable, to be self-sufficient.

The concept of each citizen’s obligations to Alaska’s government seems to be twisted and distorted when thinking about obligating Alaska’s government to pay PFDs. The concept of citizens having actual obligations to support Alaska’s government has apparently diminished for too many.

It was unimaginable at statehood in 1959 for there to be a constitutional right to receive PFDs from government and a constitutional obligation upon government to pay PFDs.

Do not read that to mean that PFDs should cease. But to place upon “the people” and “the state” an obligation to pay PFDs significantly lessens the state’s capacity to fulfill its obligations to guarantee human rights and to operate government itself, as constitutionally mandated. FYI- Functioning, good government is essential to economic development in the 21st century.

The thinking to place PFDs in the constitution is to get around the explicit constitutional prohibition denying dedicated funds [Art. IX sec. 7]: “The proceeds of any state tax or license shall not be dedicated to any special purpose … .” Those who wrote our constitution at the 1955 constitutional convention knew dedicated funds were bad for Alaska … so they prohibited them! Placing the PFD into the constitutional is bad as it would “dedicate” future state revenues.

Alaska needs substantive revenue solutions. Creating a dedicated spending obligation without long-term and meaningful revenue solutions is economic madness.

Reject PFDs in the constitution.

Joe Paskvan is retired after almost 40 years as an attorney in private practice. He is a former state senator who served as chairman of the Senate Resources Committee. He lives in Fairbanks.

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