Empire Editorial: PFD shouldn't be guaranteed

A resolution introduced this week would constitutionally protect Alaskans’ Permanent Fund Dividend checks, but the annual payout should be treated more like a luxury, rather than an entitlement.

 

Proposed by House Democrats, HJR17 would guarantee residents continue getting their share of oil profits now and long into the future — that we can get behind. But it shouldn’t happen at the expense of what’s good for the state, like infrastructure and schooling.

Furthermore, the resolution seems a bit premature considering no one is making a serious push to use dividends for other purposes.

As Alaskans, we like getting our share of oil profits. But we also like not paying a state income tax. In all likelihood one of the two will have to end at some point, whether it’s in five years, or 10, or 100.

Passing HJR17 could potentially mean every working Alaskan would some day have to pay state taxes from every paycheck they earn so that all Alaskans (working or otherwise) can collect a few hundred dollars in the fall.

Let’s face it, if the situation ever becomes so dire that dividends are needed to balance the state’s budget, the PFD checks going out would be a far cry from the $1,000 or more Alaskans have come to expect. A huge economic crash could result in Alaskans being guaranteed a percentage of little to nothing.

The 2010 push to guarantee PFDs failed because lawmakers knew it painted Alaska into a corner and limited options far too much. The same arguments hold true today.

If lawmakers ever make a serious push to do away with dividends altogether, a discussion about how we use dividends will be warranted. Maybe then we take up the conversation about guaranteeing dividends.

In the meantime, we need to remember dividends are a luxury, and HJR17 would turn them into an entitlement.

• Empire editorials are written by the Juneau Empire’s editorial board. Members include: Publisher Rustan Burton, rustan.burton@juneauempire.com; Director of Audience Abby Lowell, abby.lowell@juneauempire.com; and Managing Editor Charles L. Westmoreland, charles.westmoreland@juneauempire.com.

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