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6/11/2019
$3,000 payout fails in Senate

By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate failed Monday to revive a bill that would pay residents a full dividend of about $3,000 from the state's oil-wealth fund this year, a sign of the struggle lawmakers are having in reaching agreement on one of the special session's last issues.

Legislative leaders have made clear their intentions to pay an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend this year. What that amount ultimately is remains to be seen, though Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has been firm in calling for a full payout.

Senators deadlocked 10-10 Monday on a vote to rescind their action last week, when they voted down the full payout.

Senate Finance Committee Co-chair Bert Stedman said one way to move forward would be to follow through on a resolution passed by the House that calls for a House-Senate working group that would make recommendations on the future use of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings.

"It's unlikely that we're going to have a dividend concluded by Friday. Very, very, very, very unlikely," the Sitka Republican said. Special sessions can last 30 days, and that limit would be hit Friday.

The permanent fund is a nest-egg of sorts, seeded with oil money and grown over time through investments. Its overall value, at the end of April, was $65 billion. That includes the earnings reserve, which was valued at $19 billion. Fund earnings traditionally have been used to pay the annual dividend to qualified residents.

Dunleavy has said lawmakers should follow a longstanding formula and pay a full dividend; that was one of his top campaign pledges last year. He also has said the formula should not be changed without a vote of the people.

Some legislators agree with Dunleavy's position. There also are legislators who argue the formula is unsustainable and at odds with a law passed last year that seeks to limit what can be spent from fund earnings for dividends and government. That limit for the upcoming fiscal year is $2.9 billion. A full dividend would cost an estimated $1.9 billion.

Dividends have been capped the last three years amid a budget deficit that has persisted amid low to middling oil prices. The size of checks distributed last year was $1,600, an amount settled on because it was what could pass the House at that time.

The state, which had long relied on oil revenues to help pay for expenses, has no personal income or statewide sales tax and no such taxes have been discussed this year.

Last week, the full dividend payout fell one vote short of passage in the Senate, with a prominent supporter, Republican Sen. Mike Shower, absent.

All senators were present Monday. Democratic Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson of Anchorage, who last week voted for the bill to pay a full dividend, was among those who voted against bringing the issue back up.

Stedman said he thinks efforts will be made over the next few months to try to reach agreement on restructuring the formula. "But if that can't be accomplished, we're going to at least decide a dividend amount this year," he said.