EDITORIAL: Nothing easy about using Permanent Fund earnings

During a town hall meeting with local legislators, Alaska Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, discussed a plan to use earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund to help pay for state government. At a press conference in Juneau on Feb. 26, he said that he would consider the current session a success if the Legislature could pass such a measure, along with the operating and capital budgets.

On Feb. 27, House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, responded that focusing on the use of permanent fund earnings would be the “easy route” in addressing the state’s multi-billion dollar deficit.

We’d like to pose this question: If a plan to use permanent fund earnings is easy, why hasn’t it been done yet?

Indeed, Rep. Tuck seems to disprove his own point with that sentiment. For the past two sessions — and extended sessions, and special sessions — lawmakers have adjourned without any plan in place to use earnings from the permanent fund.

No, lawmakers have been taking the easy route for the past two years, drawing on the state’s savings to cover the $3 to $4 billion gap.

But because lawmakers have taken that route for the past two years, they are quickly running out of the easy route option going forward.

At that point, using permanent fund earnings will be the only route.

Rep. Tuck’s point is that he would like to see lawmakers also look at oil tax credits, a point of contention over the past two sessions as well.

However, lawmakers have known for quite some time that some version of a plan to use permanent fund earnings is the largest and most crucial part of addressing the deficit. It’s been acknowledged by Gov. Bill Walker, by the Senate, and even by other members of Tuck’s House Majority coalition. Too many lawmakers have been putting that tough decision off, saying that they don’t want to look at the permanent fund until they’ve done this or that or the other.

Meanwhile, Alaska has burned through billions of dollars in savings waiting for this, that or the other to get done.

We hope that the Legislature takes significant steps during this session to address both the short-term and long-term fiscal health of Alaska. We know that means using a portion of the permanent fund earnings to pay for state services.

We are under no illusions that doing so will be easy.

Updated: 
03/09/2017 - 9:44am