Alaskans split on Dunleavy PFD repayment plan

Lawmakers hear public testimony on Senate Bills 23 and 24 during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing in Juneau on March 5, 2019. (360 North screen shot)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed PFD repayment plan drew feedback from more than 100 Alaskans during a statewide public hearing Tuesday night.

The proposal — encompassed by Senate Bills 23 and 24 — would pay Alaskans money cut from permanent fund dividends since 2016, drawing of hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund’s earnings reserve account and reducing the amount available to fund other state expenses.

The hearing before the Senate State Affairs Committee stretched for more than two hours, with testimony split almost evenly between Alaskans opposed to the bills and those in favor.

Some, like Matanuska-Susitna Borough resident Melody McCullough, spoke about the importance of the PFD to their family’s personal budgets.

“I am a grandparent raising two grandchildren, and their PFDs go not only to helping fund college for these kids, but also to cover winter gear, heating expenses and groceries,” McCullough said, speaking by phone from Wasilla.

Other Alaskans told lawmakers that larger payouts aren’t worth the proposed cuts to education, health care, ferries and other state services.

“We prefer to fund a thriving environment for all, not an extra dividend payment just for us, just for today,” said Sitka resident Cindy Edwards, one of the many Southeast Alaska residents who testified Tuesday.

Lawmakers also heard from Alaskans in Anchorage and the Mat-Su, Fairbanks, North Pole, Utqiagvik and beyond. Sen. Mike Shower, a Republican from Wasilla, said more than 1,000 Alaskans contacted legislators to voice an opinion about the bills.

After closing public testimony Tuesday night, the Senate State Affairs Committee is now scheduled to discuss both SB 23 and SB 24 again Thursday.

Kirsten Swann is a producer and reporter for Alaska Public Media.

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