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10/6/2012
Wise planning

It's grand to live in Alaska.

This week the state distributed $878 to all Alaskans eligible for the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.

Miraculously, or more likely by filling out the proper form in March, some Alaskans woke up Thursday morning to find the money deposited into their bank accounts. Some looked for it by design; others just happened to check their accounts online and were greeted with a pleasant surprise — they had more money than they thought. Then they realized, oh yes, it's the Permanent Fund dividend.

Still others await actual checks to arrive via the U.S. postal service.

The $45 billion Permanent Fund is the result of wise planning by state leaders about 40 years ago. As the state developed its oil, leaders set aside a rainy day fund to benefit this and future generations of Alaskans, thinking of the state's financial future as well as that of individual Alaskans. Part of the fund's investment earnings is given to individuals to decide how to distribute — planning for their future or that of their children in terms of retirement or college, paying bills that need paying now, purchasing airline tickets for a trip, beginning to shop for Christmas gift-giving.

Whatever Alaskans do with their portion of the fund, leadership believed they should get the opportunity. Thousands of Alaskans hold them in high regard for their thoughtfulness, not to mention good planning.

The fund is invested with thought to the long term. Oil is a non-renewable resource. Once it is developed, it's gone. But, by investing the return from oil revenue, and investing it in such a way as to protect it from economic fluctuations over the long haul, it becomes a renewable financial resource with regular returns, says Board Chair Bill Moran of Ketchikan in the 2012 Permanent Fund annual report, which was mailed out this fall.

Thirty-six percent of the fund is invested in the stock markets. Twenty-one percent is in bonds, 12 percent in real estate, 11 percent in infrastructure and the balance in various smaller investments.

While global stocks in particular proved volatile in 2012, Perm Fund Executive Director Mike Burns notes that bonds and real estate performed well.

By June, the fund had realized $193 million more than the previous year at that time.

However, the dividend amount is based on a five-year average of fund performance. Instead of 2011's $801 million, the Permanent Fund Corp transferred just $605 million for fall distributions to Alaskans.

Still, $605 million is a lot of money, and $878 is more than eligible Alaskans had before it was distributed this week.

It's unlikely any individual will return it.

And what a great example the annual distribution is in terms of responsible money management illustrated by state government. For all of the criticism about government these days, no one is complaining about the state's handling of the permanent fund — not now.