JUNEAU — State Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, has launched a petition drive and campaign against efforts to fix Alaska's budget deficit with money that would otherwise go to residents' Permanent Fund dividends.
Dunleavy this week has been advertising his website, SaveYourPFD.com, which asks visitors to sign a petition "if you believe you are the best person to decide where the other half of your PFD should be spent."
The question was a reference to last year's veto by Gov. Bill Walker of roughly half the $1.4 billion set aside by the Legislature for dividend payments.
Walker said the state couldn't afford to pay the full amount amid a $3 billion budget deficit. The resulting checks were $1,022 — down from the record $2,072 a year earlier, but in line with the historical average.
Both the House and Senate majorities are now considering proposals that could restructure the $57 billion Alaska Permanent Fund by diverting some of its investment earnings to help cover state spending. In past years, those earnings were only spent on dividends.
Dunleavy belongs to the Senate's Republican-led majority, but he broke with them last year in voting against Walker's proposal to restructure the fund. The legislation passed the Senate, but failed in the House.
Meanwhile, Dunleavy has sponsored his own legislation to restore the vetoed portion of last year's PFD, a proposal that's drawn support from both ends of the political spectrum.
Co-sponsors of Dunleavy's legislation, Senate Bills 1 and 2, include Republican Sens. Cathy Giessel of Anchorage, Shelley Hughes of Palmer and David Wilson of Wasilla, as well as Democratic Sens. Tom Begich and Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage.
Dunleavy is using public money to pay for his PFD preservation campaign.
He used $5,300 in his legislative expense account to cover web design by Crystal Clear Creative, the Wasilla company that registered SaveYourPFD.com, and he's paying for Facebook ads.
Dunleavy declined to be interviewed. As he rode an elevator to a hearing Tuesday, he told a reporter his petition drive was meant to gauge interest in the issue.
Wielechowski, who's suing Walker to overturn the dividend veto, said in an interview that politicians opposed to smaller dividends are working to galvanize public support, which he pointed out, lacks the power of industry groups that oppose other deficit-reduction proposals like oil or corporate taxes.
"There's a huge constituency — it just is not organized and well-funded. So I think this is an effort to try to organize that constituency," Wielechowski said in an interview, referring to Dunleavy's campaign.
Wielechowski prefers steeper oil taxes to dividend reductions, while Dunleavy has proposed a deficit-reduction plan that relies on more than $1 billion in cuts to the state's $4.4 billion budget.
Even if their plans are unlikely to draw majority support in the Legislature, "the more pressure you put to protect the Permanent Fund, the more pressure you have to get (money) from somewhere else," Wielechowski said.