House special committee takes up PFD question

the Anchorage PFD office
Alaskans file their Permanent Fund dividend applications in downtown Anchorage in March 2016. (Rachel Waldholz/Alaska Public Media)

The Permanent Fund Dividend takes up a lot of oxygen each legislative session, as lawmakers debate how much to put in the checks that Alaskans get in the mail and in their bank accounts every year.

This year, Nikiski Republican Rep. Ben Carpenter is co-chairing the House Special Committee on Ways and Means, which makes decisions about state spending policy. His committee has put forth multiple resolutions to address the PFD question, including one that would enshrine a formula in the state constitution through an amendment (HJR 7) and others like HJR 8 that would set that formula.

Carpenter said putting a formula in the state constitution will make it so that it has to be followed — no matter what. And he said the resolutions his committee is considering build on the work of a fiscal policy working group he was part of back in 2021.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

REP. BEN CARPENTER: The fiscal policy working group came up with a report that had recommendations. But it didn’t have any resolutions or bills that the legislature could take action on.

So as co-chair of Ways and Means, I’ve collected a number of bills that have been authored and read across the floor in the House that are now sitting in my committee. There are I think seven bills and resolutions that deal with the Permanent Fund Dividend program.

And so all of those fit into the larger issue of solving the PFD problem, and what we recognized from the fiscal policy working group, or at least what the report says, is that we recognize their needs to be a constitutional solution. But it doesn’t specify what type of constitutional solution.

So the bills that are before us do that in various ways. We just haven’t selected, you know, a particular way to move forward yet.

KDLL: Last weekend, you took calls from Alaskans on these questions. How are you going to decide which of those options to go with, going forward?

BC: So, we will have some additional committee meetings to discuss other issues that were brought up during the fiscal policy working group. And then we will have a couple meetings that deal with legislative finance’s ability to model all of these different options.

And the model is basically a spreadsheet, it’s an Excel spreadsheet, that’s got some programs built into it to show us when you put in one of these options, what does it do to the long term finances of the state?

And so you can plug and play, basically, different options that are presented in the bills, and we’ll be able to see what the impact is at least numerically through that model. And the model also shows it in graphical form, too, so we can see how, over time, what it will do. And that’s hard to communicate over the radio, over the telephone, but we’ll have a visual representation to show what we’re talking about.

KDLL: Are you confident that this is the session we solve this PFD problem?

BC: I think I had one other conversation where I said there’s probably a 1% chance that we get this whole thing passed this session. I’m confident that I’m going to be able to communicate options, and I’m confident that I can communicate a plan moving forward.

It’s a really heavy lift to get the Legislature to move on any sort of heavy-lift-change-type thing. So I don’t know that I’m super-confident that we’re going to be able to find agreement on any one particular plan.

But I am confident that we will have a better understanding of what some of our options are by the end of this session.

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