State House votes to restore full dividend check

The Alaska House voted to restore Permanent Fund dividends to the full projected amount of roughly $2,200 dollars this fall.

The Alaska state capitol building in Juneau. (Public Domain photo)

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Anchorage Republican Representative Gabrielle LeDoux said during a floor session that she doesn’t support cutting PFDs without requiring oil companies to pay more in taxes.

“Without this amendment, we are headed to a budget which reduces the people’s PFD,” Ledoux said. “And to this, Mr. Speaker, I say not only ‘No,’ but, ‘Hell, no,’ and urge you to vote with me.”

By pushing the House capital budget further away from the Senate’s, the vote may make it less likely the Legislature will reach an overall budget deal before the end of the special session on Friday. And reaching a consensus is even less likely on a long-term plan to balance how much the state government spends, with what it raises.

Both the House and Senate had previously voted to reduce PFDs as part of a plan to close the long-term budget gap. But the two bodies had different ideas on how much to take. The House would have made this year’s PFD check $1,250, while the Senate voted to make it $1,000.

But the House plan also includes higher taxes on the oil and gas industry, as well as an income tax. The Senate has rejected tying changes to the Permanent Fund to new taxes.

LeDoux says having full PFDs would help residents.

“Alaskans are facing economic hardships during this ongoing recession,” Ledoux said. “Delivering a full PFD not only delivers to the people their full share of the economic wealth of this state,  but it also keeps freezers running, oil tanks full, and food on the table, providing a much-needed economic boost to our state.”

It’s not clear if the PFD increase will receive support from the Senate.

It’s also not clear if it will be approved by Governor Bill Walker. He vetoed half of PFD money last year, cutting it from just over 2000 dollars to just over 1000.

Walker said in a statement  that his administration is working with lawmakers to ensure government services continue after July 1.

“There will be actions that do not align with the full fiscal plan I proposed,” the Governor said. “In the coming days – and weeks, if necessary – my team and I will continue to work with the House and Senate toward a compromise plan and passage of a budget.”

Fairbanks Republican Senate President Pete Kelly says the vote was a distraction from negotiations on the operating budget.

“It’s a kind of proof that they’re very desperate to get an income tax,” Kelly said.” They do this through inflating the budget to the point that we almost have to have an income tax to fund it. I don’t think it’s much more complicated than that but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and continue to negotiate as long as we can.”

The House voted 26 to 14 to include $1.5 billion for PFDs. The funding drew support from most members of both the largely Democratic majority coalition and the Republican minority.

If there’s no budget deal by Friday (June 16) Governor Walker will likely call the Legislature immediately back into a second special session. If there’s no budget before July 1, the state government will shut down.