OPINION: When it comes to the PFD, Alaska has too many cooks in the kitchen

Alaska faces a seriously long list of long-term serious problems. Our population is aging, people are not moving here fast enough to replace those who leave, many employers lack enough workers to fully staff their operations, and the state’s finances are about as stable as oil prices — which is to say not.

State funding for K-12 education has been frozen in time for the past decade. We maintain our deteriorating public buildings about as well as a teenager cleans their room. And we are running a contest to see which is in shorter supply in our communities — affordable housing or child care services. No matter which one wins the title, Alaskans lose.

Thankfully, we have the Permanent Fund, which, through its earnings, provides the largest single source of general-purpose revenue for public services in the state budget.

Yet, with the Permanent Fund, we also have the Permanent Fund dividend, the largest single source of political divisiveness since Adam and Eve started arguing whether the apple harvest should be regulated.

I am starting to think the dividend is Alaska’s political equivalent of comfort food. We know it’s not healthy to keep eating oversized portions, but we can’t help ourselves.

Such as the cooks in the House Finance Committee last week. The $2,272 PFD in the draft budget unveiled by the kitchen leadership was unhealthy enough — it would overspend state revenues while ignoring multiple statewide and community needs that belong in the budget.

But then some pastry chefs on the committee tried to amend the budget to inflate the dividend to about $3,500, which would have required overdrawing on the Permanent Fund or draining the state’s budget shock-absorber account dangerously close to bottoming out at the next financial pothole.


The effort to serve up a $3,500 dividend, a favorite dessert of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, ultimately failed. But the spending plan still needs to go to the full House for a vote, at which time it will be open to amendments to bring back the dessert tray.

And while the battle over the amount of this fall’s dividend will continue until the Legislature adjourns in mid-May, several proposals in the House would permanently alter the fund and Alaska’s fiscal future — and not in a healthy way.

One proposal would ask voters to put the dividend in the state constitution, which is the last place you want a political virus. Talk about a ransomware attack.

A different House bill would remove the PFD from the legislative appropriation process, making it an automatic annual transfer, similar to setting up an autopay on your credit card regardless of whether you can afford it.

Doubling down on two bad ideas at the same time, another House bill would direct the Permanent Fund to put billions of dollars of real money into a mirage. It would steer the fund to take a 25% stake in the proposed Alaska North Slope gas pipeline project. I suppose we should be happy it’s not a 50% stake.

The most recent indigestible idea served in the House would allow Alaskans to receive $5,000 per year for three years if they are willing to give up their annual dividends forever. It’s similar to a severance package: Take the money and go away. That is not the right message when we’re already short of workers and families.

Good thing most legislators don’t have the appetite for any of these failed recipes.

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal public policy work in Alaska and Washington, D.C. He lives in Anchorage and is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Larry Persily

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal service in oil and gas, taxes and fiscal policy work. He currently is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper.