OPINION: Legislature puts the ‘end’ in dividend

  • (Photo/James Brooks/Anchorage Daily News)

Until the 11th hour of the third special session of the year, Alaskans were not going to get a PFD this fall.

And they still aren’t.

Instead, they’ll be getting a GFSBRP.

That would be the General Fund-Statutory Budget Reserve Payment.

After ignoring the statutory formula for paying the Permanent Fund Dividend out of, you know, the Permanent Fund, since 2017, the final legislative compromise in 2021 abandoned both the formula that remains on the books and the namesake source of the money.

Instead, majorities in both the House and Senate cobbled together $400.5 million from the General Fund and $330 million from the Statutory Budget Reserve for an estimated GFSBRP of about $1,100 per Alaskan.

An argument that it is at least partially a PFD (or a PPFD) could be made because some $3 billion from the Permanent Fund was transferred into the General Fund under the percent of market value, or POMV, draw.

But it is doubtful whether many legislators if any, even among this bunch, are so lacking in shame that they would line up to make that case.

A trope of pieces such as this is to call on the “dictionary definition” of some term in order to make a point, so it is with reluctance to note that a “dividend” according to Investopedia is a “distribution of corporate profits to eligible shareholders.”

In this reading, not only have the legislative majorities bastardized the “PF” in PFD, but they have also twisted the “D” to something other than its actual meaning.

A payment from savings rather than profits is not a true dividend, and a payment that drains that savings account to nearly zero — while another account holds more than $82 billion including a greater than 20 percent profit in the past year — is the height of malfeasance from our elected officials who fancy themselves as state’s board of directors.

While the legislative majorities routinely disregard the laws they find inconvenient — the statutory PFD formula, the voter-backed 90-day session limit, oil tax credit payments or per diem restrictions that kick in without a budget — they treat the POMV draw passed just a couple years as if it was carried down Mount Roberts by Moses himself carved on stone tablets.

To be fair, however, it isn’t that they respect the POMV law any more than any other. They just don’t trust themselves to be responsible with that much money, which ironically is how some of them view the idea of paying Alaskans the amount called for under the statutory formula after a decade-long bull run in the equities markets.

Based on what previous Legislatures did with windfall amounts of cash, that is probably a safe assumption, but not one that speaks well of those who are good at running for office but not actually good at governing.

The gridlock returns for another special session called for Oct. 1 that will span the eventual distribution of the GFSBRP, to be followed not long after by the regular session in January falling in a general election year.

Now that the majorities drained one savings account and lack the numbers to access another (the Constitutional Budget Reserve requires three-quarters to agree), how they will piece together the magical $1,000+ amount they’ve settled on as apparently enough to keep the pitchforks at bay is anyone’s guess.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has compromised from his campaign pledge to pay out the PFD according to the statutory formula; his political opponents may make hay out of criticizing his 50-50 plan but a wiser course would be silence when their alternative is ending the PFD entirely.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
09/22/2021 - 2:31pm