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Governor’s budget trades compassion for PFD money

  • Author: Jenny Bell-Jones
    | Opinion
  • Updated: July 26, 2019
  • Published July 28, 2019

Hundreds attend a rally in front of the Capitol, calling for an override of Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget vetos on the first day of the Second Special Session of the Alaska Legislature in Juneau on Monday, July 8, 2019. Divided Alaska lawmakers have found little to agree on this year, and that includes where to hold a special session. The Alaska state Senate kicked off its second special session in Juneau on Monday and promptly removed its majority leader, who was 600 miles (965 kilometers) away in Wasilla, with nearly a third of her fellow lawmakers. The first-term governor, a Republican, called for them to meet there, saying said a change of venue to the heart of his conservative base would be good for lawmakers. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire via AP)

The ADN recently published an op-ed entitled “Governor is the right man for our time.” After watching legislators work across the aisle to try to override the governor’s vetoes and do the best thing for the state and Alaskans, it was very disappointing to see this kind of language coming from a district chairwoman of the Alaska Republican Party.

The author was certainly within her rights to support the governor’s vetoes and demand a large Permanent Fund dividend, if that is her preference. Justifying that support with misinformation is another matter. It is exactly this kind of poisonous rhetoric that has caused conservative-leaning independents like myself to question support for the Republican Party.

Let us set the record straight. Senior citizens, children, students, rural residents, military veterans, the disabled, sick and homeless, and working Alaskans are not “special interest groups.” Health care, jobs, law enforcement and affordable heating are not special interests. People affected by the vetoes are all Alaskans. They, including university employees, are our friends and neighbors. Anyone, regardless of political affiliation, who thinks otherwise has lost their moral compass. I was relieved to see a good number of Republicans in Juneau, including many strong conservatives, agree with me on that. If Alaskans cannot take proper care of each other, what kind of a society are we?

The author opined that “others” (presumably those who did not agree with her) testifying at legislative hearings were paid to do so. If “looking around” at others allows her to see the contents of their wallets and where the money came from, she has powers that the rest of us lack. I know that I have not been paid for my hours of outreach to legislators and news media, and none of the others I know who have done the same have been paid either.

If representing a constituency at legislative hearings is part of a person’s job, then of course that person will be compensated for being there. The university system represents the interests of thousands of Alaskans, so it is reasonable to expect that salaried university leadership would be paid during attendance at legislative testimony sessions during business hours. Leaders would be derelict in their duties if they did not show up. Bank managers, leaders of nonprofit groups, union leaders and others who represent the welfare of large numbers of Alaskans have similar obligations. If the people who run my bank or my local hospital do not attend and act in my interest, I will be asking why. Private citizens testifying on their own behalf are highly unlikely to be paid. University employees who contacted legislators were instructed to do so on their own time, using personal email addresses.

Alaskans did not “give up mineral rights” in return for the Permanent Fund dividend. Ms. Robbins retains the same rights to discover and appropriate mineral claims as any other Alaska resident. The State wants us to develop mineral resources and we all have the right to participate. Plenty of land in Alaska is available for those who wish to prospect for minerals and this activity is encouraged.

We all need to understand that the PFD is not a guaranteed paycheck. And it certainly is not a payment for the relinquishment of mineral rights. Alaska retained mineral rights at statehood, and the PFD allows Alaskans to share in the revenue from mineral development. If we had “given up” mineral rights, there would be no revenue and no Permanent Fund. I urge those with questions about this to review information about the Permanent Fund and its history.

Support the governor’s vetoes and large PFD payments if you wish, but be honest. Supporting this policy means that large numbers of Alaskans from all walks of life are going to suffer. If you are OK with fellow Alaskans suffering, fine, admit your desire for free money is greater than your concern for your neighbors. Do not call us “special interest groups." Do not conflate your desire for a larger payout with “mineral rights” you never lost. And please do not suggest that someone is paying us to exercise our right to disagree with you.

Jenny Bell-Jones is emeritus faculty with the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This work represents her own opinion and not that of the department.

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