Legislation pre-filed to enshrine Permanent Fund Dividends

Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) has pre-filed a bill in advance of the 30th Alaska legislative session which would allow Alaskans a vote to safeguard the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) in the state’s constitution. The principal or “corpus” of the fund is already constitutionally protected and cannot be spent. However, the earnings of the fund can be appropriated by the legislature for any purpose.  Sen. Wielechowski’s bill would not preclude the use of the earnings reserve of the Permanent Fund by the legislature, but would require PFD checks to be paid first, utilizing the current formula and ensuring that the full dividend gets paid out every year.

“Article 8 of the Constitution already states that development of our common resources must be ‘for the maximum benefit of the people,’” said Wielechowski. “The vast majority of our resource wealth already goes to the government to spend as it wishes. This simply gives Alaskans the ability to ensure that we and future generations will always receive a small part of the benefits from our resources.”

This will be the third time that Sen. Wielechowski has proposed a bill to constitutionally protect the Permanent Fund Dividend. In 2013, SJR13 was referred to the State Affairs Committee but never received a hearing. Last session, SJR1 passed through the Senate State Affairs Committee, but stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee where it died at the end of the 29th legislative session last spring.

“With continuing talk about restructuring the Permanent Fund, it’s important for Alaskans to have some stability regarding their Permanent Fund Dividends,” said Wielechowski. “In fact, the only way Alaskans can be assured they will continue to get a dividend – and not have it completely taken away – is to put it in the Constitution.”

If the legislation passes both the House and the Senate with a 2/3 vote, the question of whether the PFD program should be constitutionally protected will be put to the people via referendum on a statewide ballot.

The Permanent Fund Dividend, established in 1982, has become a vital component of Alaska’s economy with much of the money spent in state. The Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska (ISER) has shown that reducing the PFD to generate income for state government is the most regressive option economically, and impacts Alaskans’ pocketbooks more than any other alternative.