As Alaskans receive PFD checks, lower amount still politically contentious

Eligible Alaskans received their Permanent Fund Dividend deposits today.

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Alaska residents have shared in the state’s oil wealth for decades, eagerly anticipating the reveal of the annual check’s amount, making plans on how to spend it. More recently, the excitement has been muted as Gov. Bill Walker and state legislators have capped the payout in response to Alaska’s budget deficit.

The Legislature set this year’s check at $1,600. The payout, by some estimates, would have been closer to $3,000 if not capped.

Walker defends his decision to halve the amount available for checks in 2016, when oil prices were low and lawmakers were gridlocked on addressing the deficit.

“That adjustment that was necessary to save it was one that we could not have saved it without it,” Walker said.

Walker says the Legislature eventually agreed on capping subsequent dividends – although there was certainly disagreement. He says it has saved the program.

“You know, to sit back and allow that to drain out in such a way that we had a couple high years and then it’s down in the couple hundred dollar range, that’s the one that was unsustainable,” Walker said.

While some Alaskans have defended those decisions as politically courageous, others have cast Walker as a thief.

The issue has been a factor in the race for governor. Both Republican Mike Dunleavy and Democrat Mark Begich have criticized the governor for vetoing half of the PFD in 2016. They say he should have followed the formula used until then. But neither has said exactly how they would pay for full dividends.