The state can exhale after holding its breath since the Legislature convened in January.
Gov. Mike Dunelavy and the state House came to agreement on a new operating budget Monday, just two days before the dreaded and threatened government shutdown.
That means state employees enter the upcoming holiday weekend scheduled to report back to work next Tuesday, and through July will be increasingly back in the office.
For Southeast, the forward funding of the Alaska Marine Highway System by six months is key in the budget. This will give AMHS officials a year and a half instead of only a year to schedule service to the region’s communities and, hopefully, improve the system’s reliability and economic potential.
Throughout the state, Alaskans should be pleased that the budget provides for an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend of $525..
It isn’t as high as the $2,072 in 2015 nor as low as $386.15 in 1983, but it is $525 that requires only residency and following a few simple rules. Easy money for Alaskans, but it didn’t come easy for the Legislature as evidenced by the late special session agreement.
Dunleavy, who campaigned for full funding of the PFD, has had to settle for lesser amounts each year since his 2018 election because of declines in state revenue and savings accounts; and lawmakers, especially incumbents in the next state election, might not be pleased with the reduced payout. Alaskans like the PFD.
The permanent fund and the state’s fiscal future remain top issues for further legislative deliberations. Dunleavy expects another special session in August.
In the meantime, the budget will be before the governor for possible vetos and adjustments as allowed by law. The governor has 20 days, excluding Sundays, to make his final mark on the budget.
Then Alaskans can exhale that final breath — at least for the time being. Much remains to be done in regard to Alaska’s finances.