House majority proposes $1,300 ‘energy relief checks’ for Alaskans

The House of Representatives entrance
The Alaska House of Representatives entrance in the Capitol in Juneau in 2015. On Monday, (Skip Gray/360 North)

The House majority caucus has proposed a $1,300 payment to Alaskans to provide relief for high fuel costs, inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The House majority called its proposal on Wednesday an “energy relief check.” The money would be in addition to Alaskans’ annual permanent fund dividends.

Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, said the current $110 price per barrel of oil was a major reason for the proposal.

“Prices of fuel at the pump both for gasoline and heating fuel are going to go up,” he said. “As Alaskans … face these higher prices, the state of Alaska’s also going to see more revenue come into its coffers. And so we believe that we should be helping to provide Alaskans with relief.”  

A $1,300 payment would cost the state roughly $840 million, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division. 

The payment would be slightly larger than what Gov. Mike Dunleavy initially pitched. In December, he proposed paying Alaskans $1,215, the difference between last year’s $1,114 PFD and the amount he had wanted. He also wanted that to happen in a bill that would pass as soon as possible. 

In social media posts Wednesday, Dunleavy said he’s glad the House majority has come around to agreeing with his proposal. 

“The House Coalition announcement is better late than never, but the work is not yet done,” said Dunleavy, a Republican.

In addition, Dunleavy has proposed a more than $2,500 PFD this year, equal to half of the amount the state plans to draw from permanent fund earnings. 

Lawmakers have yet to agree to a PFD amount.

The House Finance Committee plans to unveil its PFD plan on Friday, along with the rest of its budget proposal, including the proposed relief check. 

Foster co-chairs the committee. He said the committee built its proposals based on the amount of money the state forecast to bring in last fall. The Department of Revenue is expected to announce that the state has more money available later this month in its spring revenue update. 

The relief payment would be similar to the $1,200 one-time energy rebate that former Gov. Sarah Palin supported in 2008.

Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, leads the minority caucus. She noted that the 2008 payment also came in a year when the state followed the formula in state law to pay a larger PFD. She said the House majority proposal should go further than it does. 

“It would be more proper to deal with the dividend than to deal with a check and call it an energy rebate check or energy whatever they’re calling it,” she said.

Lawmakers who support an additional payment on top of the PFD, don’t all agree on when the payments should be made.

Tilton called on the House majority to include the relief payment in a bill that’s scheduled to pass quickly. Foster said the money would be in the regular budget bill, which may not be done until late in the session in May. 

The House majority caucus, which made the new proposal for an additional payment, has 15 Democrats, four independents and two Republicans. The minority caucus has 18 Republicans. There is one House member without a caucus, Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage.

The proposal also drew support from gubernatorial candidates Bill Walker, running as an independent, and Democratic candidate Les Gara.

The House Finance Committee has scheduled public testimony on the budget on Thursday afternoon. It will be taken from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. People can participate by visiting a legislative information office, or by calling. 

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.