JUNEAU — Alaska House members voted Friday to undo their vote of four days earlier to boost Permanent Fund dividends to $2,700 — replacing it with a new proposal that would effectively restructure the fund to help fill the state's deficit and lower dividend payments to $1,600.
The 21-14 vote to revoke the larger dividend, with five members absent, saw six members of the largely Democratic House majority switch their positions: Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks, Ivy Spohnholz of Anchorage, Justin Parish of Juneau, Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, John Lincoln of Kotzebue and Tiffany Zulkosky of Bethel, all Democrats.
Parish, in a subsequent speech on the House floor, described his reversal as a painful-but-necessary step to pass the state's annual operating budget.
The dividends are part of that budget, which had been paralyzed in the House since Monday's vote to raise the size of the payments.
Too many of his own colleagues in the 22-member majority opposed the $2,700 payment to reach the 21 votes needed to pass the budget. And, Parish said, no members of the House Republican minority would vote for the budget, either — even though some of them support paying the larger dividend.
"That leads us to this compromise. It's not an easy one for me to make," Parish said. "But we need to pass our budget if we're going to have the money for schools, troopers and the PFD itself."
Majority leaders told reporters Friday afternoon that with the smaller PFD, they expect to have the 21 votes needed to pass the budget next week.
The move earlier in the week to raise dividends to an estimated $2,700 — from the previously budgeted $1,250 — came in a narrow, 21-19 vote that splintered both the majority and the minority caucuses.
Majority members held a series of closed-door meetings in the following days — including with leaders of the mostly Republican Senate majority — as they tried to figure out a way to assemble the 21 votes needed to pass the budget.
The plan they settled on unfolded quickly in a floor session Friday, with many minority members home for Easter weekend.
First, Homer Rep. Paul Seaton, one of three Republican majority members, moved to rescind the vote to raise PFDs to $2,700.
That passed in the 21-14 vote. Then, members revoked and reversed another vote from earlier in the week, when the House had rejected Seaton's proposal to set the PFD at $1,600.
The final vote to set PFDs at $1,600 was 21-11, with eight members absent. All 21 yes votes came from the House majority, while all 11 no votes were from Republican minority members.
After that vote, the House adjourned until Monday, when it's expected to send its budget proposal to the state Senate.