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Permanent Fund Dividend decrease averted

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(The Center Square) – An amendment that would have decreased the amount paid out to Alaskans in permanent fund dividends failed in the House Finance Committee Thursday.

As the budget stands, Alaskans could see a PFD payout of $2,300 in 2024, according to Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan.

The 2023 amount was $1,312, according to the Alaska Department of Revenue.

“First of all, nobody on this committee wants to reduce the PFD,” said Ortiz. “I personally, Dan Ortiz, would love to have the PFD that’s described here in this particular CS. No doubt about it. But the question is: in doing so, as we move forward through this process, No. 1, Are we being totally forthright in sending the message that we are going down this path to receive a $2,300 PFD? That’s number one. Number two, is it in the best interest for the state overall?”

The PFD was previously distributed based on a performance formula. In 2016, litigation changed it to an appropriation by the Legislature. The amendment seeks a return, keeping it apart from competition with other state budget priorities.

Ortiz said the capital budget needed to be addressed in a “meaningful way.”

However, the amendment faced opposition from multiple members of the Finance Committee, including co-chairwoman Rep. DeLena Johnson.

“A lot of Alaskans have not received statutory dividends since 2015,” Johnson said. “This budget, as it stands, would provide the third-largest PFD in history while still providing a substantial increase to education and maintaining other essential services that Alaskans have contacted us about. My goal in this budget is to pay our bills, to fully fund services, and provide our constituents with a considerable boost while they’re struggling with record inflation and higher energy costs.”

Finance Committee co-chairman Rep. Bryce Edgmon, who ended up voting in favor of the amendment, said he was struggling with it as he saw both sides of the issue.

“I’m in this very difficult position,” Edgmon said, “of sort of balancing a trusting of the process because I’ve always generally been candid with my thoughts and I’m very candid with my constituents probably to a fault about the need to not only look out for this year’s budget and this year’s recipients of the permanent fund but also next year and a few years down the road as well. So I’m struggling with this amendment. I’m struggling with it mightily.”

Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, said he opposed the way the amendment went about decreasing the PFD through a “backdoor” method.

“If you want to offer an amendment, you want to cut the folks’ dividend down for FY 2025 and you want to spend it on something else, just do it that way,” Stapp said. “Don’t backdoor it. So that’s why I oppose the amendment.”

The committee did approve an amendment requested by the governor with three items that added up to approximately $15 million, according to Redmond Henderson, staff member for Johnson. The House awaits other remaining items from the Senate to consider.

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