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Alaska Legislature

Governor, lawmakers face deadline for ‘timely’ PFD payments to Alaskans

The Permanent Fund dividend office in downtown Anchorge. (LOREN HOLMES / ADN archive, 2016)

JUNEAU — Alaska lawmakers and Gov. Mike Dunleavy have one month to agree on the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend if it is to be paid “timely,” the head of the Permanent Fund Dividend Division said Wednesday.

“The deadline remains Aug. 31 for us to pay out a ‘timely’ dividend,” Anne Weske, head of the division, said Wednesday, “'timely' being the historical first Thursday in October.”

That deadline adds pressure to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who is considering whether or not to approve a $1,600 dividend that has already been approved by the House and Senate. That amount is at odds with Dunleavy’s preference for a $3,000 dividend this year, but if the governor rejects $1,600, there is no guarantee that lawmakers would approve the larger figure at all, let alone before Aug. 31.

In separate interviews Wednesday, Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said they see two paths forward for the governor. In one, he can veto the $1,600 amount and call lawmakers back into session. In the other, he can accept the $1,600 amount.

Even if he accepts the $1,600 amount, he could still call lawmakers back into session and ask them to appropriate more money for the dividend.

By email, Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. Executive Director Angela Rodell wrote that the corporation “has already been planning for a draw of $2.9 billion” in the current fiscal year. If the governor seeks a $3,000 dividend, the corporation would have to revise that upward unless lawmakers agree to spend from the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

In a letter to the governor released Wednesday evening, Giessel and Edgmon asked that Dunleavy call legislators into a third special session when the current session expires Aug. 6. The letter isn’t a direct indication that lawmakers are willing to add more money to the dividend; it states only that legislators would like to discuss changing the formula used to calculate the dividend.

“It’s the intent of legislative leadership to have the Legislature reconvene to examine the statutory formula and have any other implications tied to the use of the earnings of the Permanent Fund,” Edgmon said.

“What we recognize is that the job isn’t done yet on the question of the dividend, and that’s what we continue to work on in order to create stability,” Giessel said.

Permanent Fund dividend amounts

Lawmakers could call themselves into special session to address the dividend, but doing so requires approval by 40 of 60 legislators.

“We’re still short a handful to get to 40, but that dynamic could change in the future,” Edgmon said.

“It’d be preferable to work collaboratively with the governor in arranging the time, the date and the location of the special session and work in an amicable manner."

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, said lawmakers who align with the governor’s views on state spending are reluctant to offer their votes for a special session because they worry about other items that could be added to the agenda, such as appropriation bills adding more money to the state budget.

She said the “magic numbers” are 16 and 21: If the governor’s supporters include at least 21 lawmakers, the Legislature cannot call its own special session. If at least 16 legislators back the governor, lawmakers cannot override any of his vetoes.

House Bill 2001, in addition to containing a $1,600 dividend, reverses most of Dunleavy’s decision to veto $444 million from the state operating budget. The governor could veto the reversals, setting the stage for lawmakers to make a third try at overturning the governor’s decision.

“To me, everything would hinge on that,” she said of the numbers involved.

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