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JUNEAU – Tuesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee passed SJR1 to the Judiciary Committee, its next committee of referral.
SJR1 would allow Alaskans a vote to safeguard the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) in the state’s constitution. The principal or “corpus” of the fund is already constitutionally protected and cannot be spent. However, the earnings of the fund can be appropriated by the legislature for any purpose. The bill, proposed by Sen. Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), would not preclude the use of the earnings reserve of the Permanent Fund by the legislature, but would require PFD checks to be paid first, utilizing the current formula and ensuring that the full dividend gets paid out every year.
“Alaskans have spoken, indicating that they wish the Permanent Fund Dividend program to survive any fiscal restructure that may happen in the legislature,” said Wielechowski. “But the truth is that the only way we can guarantee a Permanent Fund Dividend that can’t get voted away by a future legislature, or vetoed by a future governor is to put it in the Constitution.”
This was the third time that Sen. Wielechowski has proposed a bill to constitutionally protect the Permanent Fund Dividend. This time the bill is cosponsored by Senator Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) and Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage).
If the legislation advances to a vote and passes both the House and the Senate with a 2/3 vote, the question of whether the PFD program should be constitutionally protected will be put to the people via referendum on a statewide ballot.
The Permanent Fund Dividend, established in 1982, has become a vital component of Alaska’s economy with much of the money spent in state. The Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska (ISER) has shown that reducing the PFD to generate income for state government is the most regressive option economically, and impacts average Alaskans’ pocketbooks more than any other alternative.