EDITOR, Daily News:
Unless someone’s been living off the grid lately, they’d know how hard a punch Alaskans have taken. A global pandemic effectively cut our land border with Canada, the only means for many to get to the rest of the United States. Our tourism industry potentially faces another canceled cruise ship season. Oil and gas prices went negative, and now federal courts and bureaucrats are cutting off access to new North Slope projects. Tens of thousands of workers lost jobs.
Thousands of small, medium and large businesses were shut down, many of them for good. Our favorite restaurants, cafes, bars — many of them local landmarks — are in danger of fading away.
It’s been a hard time.
You wouldn’t know that from reading Sen. Natasha von Imhof’s recent opinion piece. Gov. Dunleavy’s plan for economic stimulus, including following the law on how Alaskans receive their annual dividends, is, in the senator’s view, a political giveaway. To top it off, von Imhof writes that giving dividends now takes dividends away from future Alaskans.
There’s a lot of situational irony to unpack. For the past five years, Sen. von Imhof led the charge that dividends were too high, and the permanent fund was needed to balance the books for state government.
Since 2017, lawmakers, including von Imhof, had a chance to change the law on how Alaskans receive their share of our collective oil wealth. That didn’t happen. Instead, the dividend was slashed, and some amount, decided in an office or somewhere else, was set. In each of the past five years, dividends to Alaskans were slashed, and the amount going to government grew.
But now, with a proposal to directly help all Alaskans, we have a spending problem? I wasn’t born yesterday.
A decision to end this political fight over dividend size and removing that decision from politicians’ hands needs to happen this year. But saying, during the sharpest shutdown of our country’s economy in over 100 years, that direct payments of $5,000 per person is a “quick fix” is talking from a position of immense privilege. Most Americans, unfortunately, don’t have the savings for emergencies costing $1,000. Alaska’s unemployment remaons high because of the economic uncertainty.
There’s not much common ground in our politically polarized world. But there’s at least one thing upon which Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Sean Parnell and Mark Begich all agree: Get economic stimulus directly into as many households as possible now. Alaskans are fortunate that, since 1982, there’s been an efficient way to do this that’s equally open to all Alaskans — our permanent fund dividend program.
This isn’t rocket science except for those living on “private” lakes: People are hurting. It’s been proverbially raining on Alaskans. The permanent fund has over $73 billion available. My only question to Sen. von Imhof is: If now isn’t the time to use our rainy-day fund, when is a good time?