Now that elections have largely been settled across the state, the real fight over the state’s permanent fund can begin.
When the state legislature gavels in next month, it won’t see a Kenai Peninsula delegation that’s in total agreement with Governor Mike Dunleavy’s plan to not only fully fund next year’s dividend for residents, but also include back pay from past years when the legislature thought it imprudent to fully fund that part of the budget, while cutting other services.
Governor Dunleavy continued his victory lap around the state with a stop in Soldotna Thursday night.
It felt like another campaign stop, but in just a few weeks, the campaigning will really be over and the process of actually governing will begin. And there is some disagreement among central peninsula legislators about how to handle one of the governor’s top priorities, restoring the PFD. The governor is confident that his plan will survive the legislative process.
“The issue isn’t the PFD. You really have to ask some of these folks a deeper question. Why do they want it? Because they want to pay for government that they don’t want to shrink or they don’t want to have managed better. We want to manage government better. We’re already finding areas where we could be much more efficient. So, before we take money out of the hands of the people of Alaska, we’re going to make sure we manage this government better. I don’t believe we need to take the PFD out of the hands of Alaskans. I think if they have the PFD, they’re going to know how to spend it better than government does," Dunleavy said.
And that sentiment is shared by at least some of the delegation from the Kenai. Senator Peter Micciche and Representative Gary Knopp along with representatives-elect Ben Carpenter from Nikiski and Sarah Vance from Homer all gave their opinions on what the legislative session might look like for the borough assembly recently. Like the governor, Vance made the PFD a cornerstone of her winning campaign.
“The full PFD belongs fully to the people. I will do whatever I possibly can to work on the budget to be able to fulfill that.”
And there will be no argument from Ben Carpenter, who is willing to make room and potentially shift costs down to boroughs and cities.
“The bottom line is...that there are maybe things that we take for granted that the government does now that it doesn’t need to do any more. And we need to figure out a way within our own communities how to make that happen. I think specifically about the drug issue that we have...Government’s not ever going to be able to adequately get people off drugs. That’s something communities have to do.”
There was a stark difference in the positions among the newly-elected Carpenter and Vance and Senator Micciche and Representative Knopp, who have both been through the budgeting process in Juneau before. Knopp says there are simply too many other financial obligations for a full PFD and certainly not several years’ worth in one budget cycle.
“We didn’t have funding the last few years for a full PFD. I don’t believe we’ve got funding this year for a full PFD. There’s a lot of debt we haven’t paid, a lot of things to catch up on...I don’t think the money is there. I think when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, we’ve ran through lots of scenarios of paying out different portions. I think most of us really know where it’s at and what our obligations in the state are. I think they need to get under control before we do any full funding or reimbursements of dividends.”
Senator Micciche said he thinks the politics of the day demand a full PFD this year, but politics and finances don’t always align.
“The promises that were made about cuts, everyone’s on board with them until you make the cuts and we’ll hear from people about the things that they can really live without and understand their expectations better when the grader doesn’t show up until 10 a.m. and only when it snows four inches...It will change. And then Alaskans can come back and let us know how they feel about those cuts.”
The 31st legislature convenes on January 15th.