Session ends with an $1,100 PFD, gov calls Legislature back Oct. 1
Alaskans will get a Permanent Fund dividend this year after all but their lawmakers have again left the Capitol without making marked progress toward solving the state’s underlying financial imbalance.
The state Senate approved House Bill 3003 containing funding for PFDs of about $1,100 per eligible Alaskan on a 12-7 vote the afternoon of Sept. 14, hours before the third special legislative session of the year was set to expire. The House approved the bill Aug. 30.
Legislators won’t be gone for long, as Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced he will not veto the dividend amount and will instead call a fourth special session of the year to begin Oct. 1.
“In a year when the Alaska Permanent Fund earned almost $20 billion, and the total value of the fund exceeds $83 billion, there are members of the legislature that would love to eliminate the PFD, and grow government, regardless of the harm it would cause Alaskans,” Dunleavy said in a formal statement. “Our state is still dealing with the economic ramifications of this virus, the distractions of employment issues, the lack of available workers and the disruptions to the supply chains. While we continue to debate the fiscal future of this state, the people of Alaska need help now.
“On one hand, a veto of this half measure would seem appropriate, but at this stage of the game that would aid and abet those that don’t care about individual Alaskans, small businesses and the economy. As a result, I will not veto this partial PFD, but will call the legislature back into session October 1 to get the rest of this year’s PFD and to solve the state’s financial problems with a complete fiscal plan.”
The mix of spending caps, new taxes, constitutional amendments and additional Permanent Fund draws sought in some combination by most legislators and Dunleavy to overhaul the state’s financial structure after running annual deficits for nearly a decade gained little traction.
Instead, the past month was spent getting back to the PFD amount first approved by the budget conference committee back in June. At that time, the House also approved the budget with PFD of about $1,100 per person, but the supermajority votes needed to access the Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund, which the conference committee tied much of the PFD funding to, failed as some legislators demanded a PFD appropriation in line with the governor’s “50-50” plan to pay half of the $3 billion-plus that is drawn from the fund each year for dividends.
Under Dunleavy’s proposal, this year’s PFD would be approximately $2,350, according to the Revenue Department.
The failed CBR vote left funding for dividends of approximately $525 per person, which Dunleavy vetoed completely and called “a joke” in a press briefing after signing the budget.
Officials in the Department of Revenue have long said it takes them approximately 30 days to issue dividends after the appropriation is approved by the Legislature and governor, meaning this year’s PFDs will not be issued by the traditional early October timeframe.
It’s unclear what in a fourth session would push legislators in powerful positions who are also against spending more than 5 percent from the Permanent Fund each year or imposing taxes to offset the spending from larger PFDs to agree to do so.
The more time the Legislature spends debating the state’s fiscal problems and the well-known options to resolve them, the more entrenched the various factions seem to become.
The discord among Alaska’s elected officials also showed through in their inability to approve emergency legislation leaders of the state’s hospitals say is needed to help them provide care while severe COVID-19 infections threaten to overwhelm doctors and nurses at many of the state’s health care facilities.
Dunleavy introduced legislation Sept. 2 to again allow providers the leeway to perform telehealth appointments with Alaska patients from outside the state without obtaining an Alaska license and temporarily relax other requirements, such as state background checks for traveling nurses as health care workers fight the latest surge of the virus.
He said at the time that the bill was preferable to issuing another public health emergency declaration, which some legislators called for.
The Senate passed the telehealth bill Sept. 10 but House Majority leaders ultimately refused to pass the legislation and instead considered it dead Sept. 13 after an amendment was narrowly approved backed largely by Republicans in the House minority caucus along with Anchorage Democrats Chris Tuck and Geran Tarr to limit hospitals’ ability to restrict patient visits during the pandemic.
House Speaker Rep. Louise Stutes said in a joint statement that House coalition leaders chose not to allow the bill back to the House floor for a vote after hearing from health care workers and Department of Health and Social Services officials that the visitation amendment meant the bill would likely do more harm than good in their fight against COVID-19.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].