For many months now, I've heard from voters across Alaska about the issues they're concerned about. Among them are state spending, crime, the lack of educational results and our dismal economy. Overall, however, one issue rises above them all: the Permanent Fund dividend. Alaskans are furious about this issue, and I don't blame them.
I strongly support preserving the Permanent Fund dividend program. The amount of the annual PFD should be determined according to the law that has been on the books for decades. I support protecting the traditional PFD program in the state constitution. I believe that no change to the structure of the Permanent Fund dividend program should be made without a vote of the people — now or at any time in the future. In addition, I support paying back to Alaskans the dividends that were owed to them but not paid.
I am not using this issue to become governor; I want to become governor to affect this issue. Alaska suffers from a crisis of confidence with our politicians and our government. The first step in bridging that divide is to protect and restore the PFD.
My record as state senator is clear: I voted against cuts to the PFD six times — every single time it came up for a passage vote — and introduced legislation to repay full PFDs twice. Eventually, I voted against the final budget because it reduced the PFD. I did this knowing full well my decision would cost me seats on powerful committees, chairmanships, staff and membership in the majority caucus. I took a lot of heat for these decisions, but I knew it was the right thing to do. As governor, doing what's right for Alaskans will always come first.
In my mind, Alaskans have lost trust in their government these past four years as a result of seeing so many promises broken. Who can blame them? The current governor has been telling Alaskans for years that the state desperately needs revenue, cash flow is tight and government has been cut to the bone. Then they see the same governor do silly things like hire a climate change adviser at more than $140,000 a year, request a fast-rail study that would have cost more than $4 million, and close the courts on Friday afternoons in the midst of a crime wave. Then, politicians wonder why citizens don't believe them when they cry poor and say there's not enough money to follow the law and pay full dividends. In reality, the billions of dollars confiscated from the PFD are still sitting in the bank. Alaskans can tell when they are being sold a 'false bill of goods,' and rightfully cried foul over efforts to cap the PFD.
Unlike my opponent, who promises to permanently cut the PFD, I support protecting the traditional PFD in the state constitution, out of reach of politicians. Eventually, the citizens of Alaska may decide to change the way the Permanent Fund is used. But the people themselves, not politicians, must make that decision for anyone to place trust in it. Alaska voters are a smart and savvy bunch, and I trust they will make the right decisions at the right time. Until the politicians make a serious and honest effort to manage our current funding better, reduce wasteful spending, and employ our current assets more economically, they will never accept the tired old song that they just need more money. Nor should they. It is not Alaskans' fault that politicians are unable to control their desire to spend.
Several steps must be taken for the people of Alaska to regain trust in government: The PFD must be paid out according to the law, Alaskans must be paid back what the governor arbitrarily took from them, and future actions involving the PFD must be approved by voters. At a minimum, these things must happen in order to begin to restore people's trust in their government.
As governor, I will fight to restore and protect the PFD, not only because the law requires it, but because we must reestablish trust between the people of Alaska and their leaders.
Mike Dunleavy is the Republican candidate for governor of Alaska. A public school teacher, principal and superintendent for more than two decades in Koyuk, Kotzebue and the Mat-Su area, Dunleavy served on the Mat-Su Borough School Board and in the Alaska State Senate.
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