Senator proposes PFD lottery to boost education

JUNEAU — A new proposal from an appropriately named Fairbanks Republican senator would put a twist on the Permanent Fund's Pick.Click.Give program by creating a lottery to help pay for Alaska's education system.

Sen. Click Bishop wants to let Alaskans put a portion of their annual Permanent Fund dividend checks into what he's calling an "education lottery," and he introduced legislation Monday, Senate Bill 78, to create such a system.

It's slightly different from the existing Pick.Click.Give program, which allows Alaskans to divert some of their dividend to charity.

Under Bishop's proposal, each $100 donation — something like a $100 lottery ticket — would increase your odds of winning. Half the proceeds would go into a state account currently used for education; one-fourth would go into a new education endowment; the rest would go to a lottery fund that would be used in part to pay winners.

Twenty percent of the cash in the lottery fund would be given away each year, with the winner getting half the total payout and the rest divided between three other consolation winners. If the lottery fund ever hits $500 million, extra cash would be diverted to the endowment account.

Schools are in the crosshairs in the Legislature amid Alaska's budget crisis, and Bishop's Republican-led Senate majority is eyeing a 5 percent cut this year. Bishop, in an interview Monday, acknowledged that his proposal would be unlikely to eliminate the need for deficit-reduction measures like taxes or a restructuring of the Permanent Fund.

But he cited surveys of his constituents that turn up consistent support for increased spending on education, and he said his idea could allow state cash currently spent on schools to be diverted to other priorities like public safety.


He also said the lottery could make for a fun new tradition, with the governor picking winners at the annual announcement of the amount of the PFD.

"You could get hit by lightning 17 times before you hit the Powerball," Bishop said, referring to the popular multistate lottery in the Lower 48 with prizes at times in the hundreds of millions of dollars. "The odds here are a lot better."

He added: "It does give people some hope. And if you don't like it, don't play."

Because it's tied to a Permanent Fund application, only residents could play.

Nathaniel Herz

Nathaniel Herz is an Anchorage-based journalist. He’s been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com