Opinions

Success depends on putting Alaska’s fiscal house in order

Alaska is a challenging place to live. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed our economy and exacerbated many of the factors that make it difficult to live and work in Alaska. We have the highest health care costs in the nation while our health care system is strained to its breaking point. We pay extremely high energy prices just as many experts are predicting costs will skyrocket this winter. Alaskans also face high costs for food, housing and other necessities like child care and transportation.

Alaska is also the best place to live. That’s why we live here and why we are dedicated to the long-term success of our great state. However, success depends on putting Alaska’s fiscal house in order and ending the political dysfunction that continues to destabilize our economy and the Alaska way of life. That’s why the four of us are working together, to push for action.

This week, Alaskans received Permanent Fund dividend, or PFD, checks of $1,114. Unfortunately, the value was not set using the established formula in state law, nor was the amount set on the much-talked-about 50-50 split of the annual Percent of Market Value, or POMV, draw.

Instead, it was determined at the last possible moment based on how much money was left over in the budget. Fiscal work was to continue in hopes to send out an additional check.

Significant progress was made during the third special session through the Joint Comprehensive Fiscal Plan Working Group established on the last day of the second special session. This group did great work this summer when the members broadly agreed on what must be part of a comprehensive fiscal plan. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn progress after that was slow.

Now we are called into a fourth special session to further develop and implement a comprehensive fiscal plan and to permanently protect the PFD. They both go hand in hand toward stabilizing our economy and giving all Alaskans certainty to the future. Our work isn’t done.

The working group’s recommendations are a great starting point for the hard work of drafting, deliberating and ultimately passing legislation to fix Alaska’s fiscal problems.

We view a statutory PFD as a contract between the government and the people of Alaska. Some people need the PFD — especially right now due to the pandemic; some don’t, but we cannot deny the impact it has on our economy. Alaska needs this issue resolved.

No matter your views about the size of the PFD, we can all agree it is a bad idea to let lawmakers arbitrarily set the amount based on the way the political winds are blowing that day. Ignoring state law breaks the trust of Alaskans while also setting a dangerous precedent for future Legislatures. Without changing the formula, voters are denied a voice at the polls through a potential referendum vote on whether the new formula is acceptable or not.

As part of a comprehensive fiscal plan, we support the payment of a supplemental PFD payment as soon as possible. This payment would do so much good for those who are struggling to make it through this pandemic. It’s the right and fair thing to do.

There are multiple reasons Alaskans support a dividend. Many see the royalty tie to our vast resources, while others see the benefit to our economy and how it uplifts working families. The specifics of the formula can be worked out, but we can’t allow disputes about the PFD to continue to deadlock the budgeting process and the work we were elected to do.

Finally, it’s time for lawmakers and the governor to put aside the campaign rhetoric and embrace the language of state leaders. It’s time to do less finger-pointing and come together to make good public policy. It’s time to sit down and do what’s best for Alaska. That’s exactly what we will be doing, and we hope that the rest of our colleagues will join us in that discussion to secure Alaska’s future.

Rep. Sara Rasmussen,R-Anchorage; Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage; Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage; and Rep. Josiah Patkotak, I-Utqiaġvik, are members of the Alaska House of Representatives.

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