With nine words, skiing superstar Kikkan Randall and other Olympians who call the 49th state home are on their way to being recognized as true Alaskans.
In a wake up call for the state Department of Revenue, the Alaska Senate on Friday approved legislation spelling out that an Alaskan on "a United States national team for an Olympic sport" qualifies for a Permanent Fund Dividend.
The Legislature long ago recognized that Olympians, who are forced to spend a lot of time out of state training and competing in the build up for an appearance on the biggest stage for international competition, should be exempted from the standard residency requirements for a PFD.
Clueless as to what it takes to qualify for the Olympics, however, the Department of Revenue decided that top-flight Alaska athletes would qualify for dividends only during the Olympics, which come along once every four years.
Three years out of four, Olympians like Nordic skier Randall were denied the annual checks that represent every Alaskan’s share of the wealth from North Slope oil. Randall grew up in Anchorage on the way to making Alaska proud as a three-time Olympian who’s become the greatest female Nordic skier in U.S. history. She’s been joined by Holly Brooks, who moved to Alaska and married a local boy only to find unexpected success as a Nordic skier that led to the Winter Games and World Championships. Other Alaskans in other sports have also reached the Olympics -- and even more are striving to do so.
More than a few Alaskans were outraged to learn that Alaska Olympians were being treated so shabbily.
"Drive through European ski towns and you find fancy hotels named after ski heroes," observed Anchorage photographer Eberhard Brunner. "By tradition (there), homecoming Olympic medalists receive as a gift from their hometown a piece of valuable property. Europeans have learned that keeping their heroes at home is not only good for the tourist business but also recognize that heroes breed heroes.
"Today there are hundreds of girls dreaming about becoming another Kikkan and Holly ... There is no big money for either Alpine or Nordic skiing coming from American sponsors. To refuse our ambassador-athletes their PFD check just shows how old fashioned most of our politicians in Juneau think."
McGuire cries foul
Or at least how deep in the Juneau silt some bureaucrats in Southeast Alaska have buried their heads. The politicians might actually have been getting a bum rap on this one.
It was one of the latter -- Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, who was quick to cry foul on the decision by Revenue and earlier this week amended legislation that granted PFDs to Alaskans in the military to make it clear those on the national team training hard for the Olympics wouldn't be treated as if they'd up and moved to Hawaii to hang out on the beach drinking beer.
HB52 as amended passed the Senate by a vote of 19 to 1 Friday. It now goes to a conference committee, which is expected to accept the change, and then on to the governor for his signature.
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com