First, I must compliment Gov. Bill Walker for taking a crack at suggesting a solution to the fiscal crisis Alaska is facing; not that I am in agreement on all points. I, for one, would tax but never reduce the amount of the Permanent Fund dividend, for to even consider capping it is in itself a major tax, and a tax paid only by Alaskans.
The dividend, as envisioned by Gov. Jay Hammond, was to be a share of the earnings of oil and other nonrenewable resources that, unlike in the other 49 states, is owned by the people of Alaska. The dividend is more a return on what we own, like the return on AT&T stock, or as Jay preferred to call it, "Alaska Inc." It is not, and never was, meant to be welfare.
Tightening the criteria for those who receive a dividend is long overdue. We need to close the loopholes that let people who are gone for long periods from Alaska, in excess of 90 days, to continue to take out money. And we should consider distributing a dividend every three months instead of one large check once a year. It might keep more of our wealth in state.
But to return to Gov. Walker's proposal, it is after all, only a proposal. Under the Alaska Constitution, only the legislative body can appropriate the people's money. True, the governor has line item veto power, but he can only take an item out of the budget. He may not add.
I hear some legislators say they want to see a budget reduction first. All right, then put up or shut up. As the budget is a legislative process, either cut it or tax enough to balance it. If you want to cut the guts out of a program, then do it. But if you cut as much as some of you say you want, you will no doubt lose the next election.
Stealing from the future is not the mark of a statesman but of cowardice, and does not represent Alaskans who will live their whole lives in this land, but represents those who come here to make money and retire elsewhere. They would rather spend Alaska's savings than pay anything to ensure a future.
As a lifelong Republican, I feel I'm paying for more local, state and federal government than I want. But I am willing to pay for roads, airports, schools and police, not to mention medical and dental coverage that we did not have in my part of Alaska when first I came.
The boom is over, and those who think that the oil "sugar daddy" will come back are living in a dreamland. Like the Dawson Gold Rush, it has ended. Yes, we will find more oil, but the odds of $20 a barrel are better than waiting for $80. And like Dawson, we will still mine gold, and oil will put some dollars in the pot, but like a city must face every year, in the end we must pay our way.
Clem Tillion of Halibut Cove served seven terms in the Alaska House and two terms in the state Senate. He was a close ally and friend of Gov. Jay Hammond and helped Hammond and others design the Alaska Permanent Fund.
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