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As of noon Tuesday, about 86,000 Alaskans had applied online to receive the 2014 Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend.
That number likely will swell past 670,000 by the March 31 application deadline. Given Alaska’s estimated population of around 731,500, it’s clear that just about every resident approves — and makes use — of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program.
For most residents, what’s not to like? Every year since the dividend program began in 1982, each qualified Alaska resident has received a dividend check ranging from $1,963.86 (2000) to $331.29 (1984).
Those are significant amounts. Alaskans have used Permanent Fund dividends for everything from basic foodstuffs, clothing, fuel and education to vehicles and vacations.
But Alaskans shouldn’t take the annual payouts that have ranged from $176.5 million to $1.1 billion for granted.
So far, the Alaska Permanent Fund and dividend program are the result of extraordinary vision by its founders, prudent maintenence by their managers, and the great reluctance of Alaska politicians to risk voter wrath by trying to tap the Permanent Fund for other uses. With the increasingly dire predictions for the State of Alaska budget, the politicians could be eyeing the Permanent Fund and its $49.8 billion balance sheet to help solve fiscal woes in the not-too-distant future.
The origins of the Alaska Permanent Fund are found in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System that provided a mechanism for transporting Alaska oil from the North Slope to markets outside the state. Oil began flowing through the pipeline in 1977, filling the state treasury with revenues that the newly-rich state Legislature spent as fast as they arrived.
Two visionary leaders, Gov. Jay Hammond and Rep. Oral Freeman of Ketchikan, worked to create the Alaska Permanent Fund as a way to save some of the state’s oil revenues for the future. Freeman led the legislative work that led to the first major appropriations to the Alaska Permanent Fund in 1980 and 1981. In 1982, qualified Alaska residents received their first dividend checks of $1,000 each.
Every year since then, a percentage of the state’s oil revenues and the proceeds from the fund’s investment portfolio are added to the fund. And, every year since then, Alaskans have continued to receive and make use of those annual dividend checks.
As the late Freeman once argued, the “dividend check is the life-insurance policy of the Permanent Fund. You don't find many politicians stupid enough to say they want to tamper with it.”
Whatever the long-term prospects of the Alaska Permanent Fund and dividend program — and we hope those prospects are very, very long-term indeed — the time to apply for the 2014 dividend is now.
The dividend application period began Jan. 1 and continues through March 31, with some exceptions, according to the Alaska Department of Revenue’s Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division.
Further information, including the online application process, is available on the division’s website at: www.pfd.alaska.gov.