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Senate Committee Hears Latest PFD Restructuring Bill

Alaska Public Media

Senate bill 5001 had its first look by the Senate State Affairs committee Wednesday afternoon. The bill is the newest version of Governor Walker’s attempt to restructure the Permanent Fund.

As so many committee hearings go, this one had a few scenes of political theatre. State Affairs committee chair, Republican Bill Stoltze, convened the hearing near his home district in Wasilla, where the LIO was packed with protesters. He expressed some disappointment that more prominent members of the Walker administration weren’t available to take on questions about the future of the Permanent Fund, as it’s been proposed by the Governor.

The biggest issue committee members had was with the legality of Walker’s desire to take more control over how much of the Permanent Fund Dividend is made available to Alaskans. Anchorage Democrat Bill Wielechowski summed it up.

“Even though the state law very clearly says the Permanent Fund Corporation must transfer from the earnings reserve to the Dividend fund, the Governor has vetoed that appropriation. So, if we pass this law could a future Governor go ahead and veto the amount of the $900,000 Permanent Fund?"

That PFD dollars must be transferred for distribution is how things are now. But there’s some grey area about what, if any changes can be made to that. The Governor’s proposal would divert some of that money into the state’s general fund.

“We’re setting out a framework, a long-term financial plan if you will, for preserving the value of the Permanent Fund even as we’re relying on it," said Assistant Attorney General Emma Pokon.  

"Future legislatures would have the authority to not follow what’s in the statute and appropriate a different amount. But the practice has been, over the history of the dividend, that transfer is accomplished through an appropriation.”

This is uncharted territory for lawmakers and for how the Permanent Fund is distributed. It’s still unclear if the House will be able to muster the votes to override Walker’s plan by Friday, the deadline for such votes.