Alaska editorial: $40 billion

This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

In about two months, the economic recovery that’s been more Wall Street than Main Street will come home to Alaska in the form of Permanent Fund dividend checks.

The good news is that the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. reported a banner year for Alaska’s savings in fiscal year 2011, with a return of 20.6 percent, mostly driven by those recovering stocks, and a fiscal year finish (June 30) of more than $40 billion for the first time in the fund’s history.

The bad news is that even with the dazzling return, 2011 dividends likely will be a little less than the $1,281 each of 2010. That’s because we’ve still got those recession years in the five-year rolling average used to calculate the dividend payments.

But we’ll take the annual blessing and be glad for it. The Permanent Fund will set aside about $800 million this year to pay dividends —that’s an $800 million shot in the arm to Alaska’s economy, our individual shares of Alaska’s oil wealth. And not a dime is borrowed money. Debt limit? Not our problem. When it comes to the Permanent Fund, we think long-range. When we hear limit, we think sky.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, correcting a questioner’s use of millions for billions in an interview last week, pointed out that in the deficit debate, “millions” were irrelevant. In that debate, you weren’t talking business unless you were talking billions in big multiples.

But on the state level, our modest millions still count.

On the individual level, so do tens and twenties.

The Permanent Fund remains an Alaska success story, about as close as a state can come to having that cake and eating it too. Dividends every fall, and a fund that keeps growing in the long term, a fund that’s lasted for more than 30 years and should continue to span generations.

Turns out we didn’t squander all that oil bonanza after all.

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