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12/14/2019
PFD influence

Alaskans speak up when it comes to the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend and will in the coming new year.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced his proposed 2021 operating budget to Alaskans this week. His administration took a tamer approach after raising Alaskans’ ire when he presented his vision for Alaska in his first budget in February.

That budget was widely perceived as deadly.

Today Gov. Dunleavy is the same man with the same ideological beliefs of 2018. But, at present he also is a governor with a year’s experience in the hot seat.

Hot it was, too. Alaskans, recognizing the need to eliminate an operating budget deficit, figured that reduced spending and creating new revenue could be done over time. When Dunleavy started taking out the Alaska Marine Highway System, the University of Alaska and other state fixtures after only weeks in office, Alaskans got hot.

When Dunleavy and the Legislature got into a political tug-of-war over where the lawmakers should meet in special session, Alaskans got hot.

When the state’s leaders settled on a reduced dividend, although Dunleavy had promised a full dividend as well as funding gaps from three years of short-funded dividends, Alaskans got hot.

While some Alaskans responded with heat on one topic, others answered with fury on another. But common amongst Alaskans was a pervasive anxiety.

The governor, with his budget for 2021, decided against fueling that emotion early in the budgeting process.

He and the Legislature will continue to address deficit spending in the session that starts next month. While Dunleavy has proposed increased spending for such agencies as the Alaska State Troopers, which is in need of officers, reductions will be integral in conversations between the two branches of government.

This year Dunleavy’s key budget adviser is an Alaskan, and his chief of staff is an experienced former legislator. Their Alaska and legislative familiarity will be advantageous to both the governor and the Legislature.

The Alaska public also can be expected to be engaged, particularly after reduced dividend dispersements for a fourth year. Nothing draws the public’s attention like the dividend.

The dividend serves as a catalyst to captivate Alaskans. Once engaged, Alaskans realize a greater understanding of the state’s finances.

It’s an understanding critical to not only addressing the dividend, but also in resolving the state’s operating budget deficit.