Letter asking for vote on second PFD payment reflects differences among Alaska Republican senators

Two legislators in a room with masks on.
Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, and Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, talk before a committee meeting in April in the Capitol. (Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

A group of six Republican state senators sent a letter on Monday asking two powerful Republican senators to allow a vote on a bill to fund a second Permanent Fund dividend this year of roughly $1,200. 

The unusual letter to Senate Finance Committee co-chairs Bert Stedman and Click Bishop said “action must be taken” on Senate Bill 4001, requested by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

The letter was signed by Sens. Shelley Hughes of Palmer; Mia Costello and Roger Holland of Anchorage; Robert Myers of North Pole; Lora Reinbold of Eagle River; and Mike Shower of Wasilla. 

The letter said: “Continued inaction opens our caucus to being viewed as a ‘do nothing’ caucus.” 

Hughes said she supported sending the letter because she wanted her position to be clear. And she said time is running out to pass the PFD proposal from Dunleavy.

“We saw a window of opportunity beginning to slam shut,” she said. “And we felt like maybe we could pry it open.”

Stedman and Bishop have opposed drawing more earnings than planned from the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay higher dividends. They say the state should follow a law that limits the annual draw from the fund’s earnings. Stedman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment and Bishop declined to comment.

Hughes said concern over fund earnings is why she supports amending the state constitution to both guarantee the PFD and protect fund earnings.

Dunleavy has proposed an amendment that would pay dividends based on half of the annual draw from the Permanent Fund. For this year, that amount would be more than $2,300. He has proposed the second PFD payment to make up the difference between the $1,114 PFD that’s already passed and that amount.

The committee chaired by Stedman and Bishop advanced a bill during the third special session that would have paid PFDs in the amount requested by Dunleavy in three years. But the bill also required $700 million in new taxes before the state would pay higher PFDs. Without the taxes, PFDs would be roughly $1,300, according to the bill. 

The Senate hasn’t had enough members present to hold a regular floor session since the first day of the fourth special session. The fourth special session must end by Nov. 2. 

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that Sen. Shelley Hughes said time is running out to pass Gov. Dunleavy’s PFD proposal.

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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