News-Miner opinion: For the fourth time this year, the Alaska Legislature is meeting in Juneau in special session and few appear enthusiastic about its chances of accomplishing much in the way of fixing Alaska’s fiscal mess or ending the state’s annual fight over the Permanent Fund dividend.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proclamation for the 30-day session directs lawmakers to consider a “supplemental” Permanent Fund dividend this year to bolster the $1,114 payout approved on the final day of the Legislature’s third special session. The governor earlier this year called for a $2,360 dividend.
Dunleavy also called for constitutional amendments enshrining the dividend in the state constitution and calculating the annual payout formula using 50 percent of the fund’s Earnings Reserve Account annually for dividends and 50 percent for government.
The governor earlier proposed using the fund’s record earnings this year to pay for bigger dividends, but lawmakers balked at the idea, saying to do so would require they break a limit on earnings spending set only four years ago and deprive the state of future earnings.
Dunleavy also called on lawmakers to restructure the Permanent Fund; limit spending; and, pass legislation to increase revenues to help pay for it all.
Most of the governor’s proposals carry with them a need for additional funding. With money in short supply and the source of any new state revenue up in the air, it could be difficult to find the 27 House and 14 Senate votes needed to place a constitutional amendment on next year’s ballot.
Whatever the outcome, many believe the annual battle over the size of the Permanent Fund dividend — first sparked when former Gov. Bill Walker overrode the statute-based formula in 2016 and vetoed $696 million of the $1.4 billion appropriated by the Legislature that year for dividends — will remain a staple of state politics for at least the foreseeable future.
While hopes for a workable fiscal plan appear to be fading during this special session, the costs of failing to agree on one continue to mount.
The Legislative Affairs Agency, as of Sept. 21, said the first legislative special session, from May 20 to June 18, cost Alaskans — for lawmakers’ personal services, travel and per diem and commodities and services — $722,522, or $24,084 per day. The second session, from June 23 to June 28, cost $191,833, or $31,972 per day. The third session, from Aug. 16 to Sept. 14, cost $508,394, or $16,946 per day. Those costs, it should be noted, are not yet final and the tab for the fourth session is yet unknown.
While a quote widely attributed to Mark Twain opines, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” the way things are shaping up in Juneau, that may hold true with the 32nd Legislature’s fourth special session.