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Financial officer looks for life after permanent fund

Posted: Tuesday, January 04, 2000

The man who deposited the first trickle of oil money into the Alaska Permanent Fund has left his office at Goldbelt Place.

Some 23 years since he wired that first check - for $734,000 - Peter Bushre has left his post as chief financial officer at the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., which manages a fund that's grown to more than $27 billion.

With the new year, Bushre's time at the permanent fund ran out. At 56, he just was ready to spend some time at his Douglas home, do some traveling and try something he hasn't done before.

``It's time to find out that there's more to life than the permanent fund,'' Bushre said. ``I'm going to learn how to play golf.''

When he talks about himself, Bushre falls into a history lesson about the permanent fund. ``It's been my life for the last 24 years,'' he said.

Bushre started working for the state in 1973. Within three years, his Department of Revenue duties included working on legislation promoted by then-Gov. Jay Hammond.

``They had this thing called the permanent fund that at that time was truly in an embryonic stage,'' Bushre said.

The House and Senate were legislating the constitutional amendment that would set up the fund. The House passed a version that would have put 50 percent of state revenue from oil and other natural resources into the fund. The Senate wouldn't go that far, and a compromise, of at least 25 percent, was agreed to.

If the House plan had passed, he said, Alaska would not be having a hard time balancing its budget today. Interest being earned by the fund would have been plenty to pay for government and dividends.

``The permanent fund would have been huge,'' Bushre said. ``There would have been enough.''

How huge? Maybe $50 billion, or about twice the value of the current fund.

He recalls his first years working at the fund corporation as a

creative time. Policies were being set by fund trustees deciding basics, such as what kind of ventures the fund should invest in, whether the board should be active or passive, and whether the fund should be managed internally or by an outside firm.

In those days oil money was flowing like water into state coffers, and experts were predicting future oil prices at $75 per barrel.

``The state was rich,'' he said. ``They had so much money, even the Legislature couldn't decide how to spend it. In those days, every stupid idea that was proposed got funded.''

Clark Gruening, chairman of the fund's governing board, said Bushre will be missed. ``He deserves a collective pat on the back from all Alaskans,'' he said.

Gruening has other corporation openings to fill.

Byron Mallott, the permanent fund's executive director for the last five years, left with the new year as well. He announced his departure in November.

Gruening said applications for executive director are due by Jan. 12. The board will meet later in the month, with a new director to be named as early as Jan. 28, he said.

Also leaving with the coming of 2000 was the fund's director of information technology, David Riccio.

Bushre hired Riccio in 1993, and he's rebuilt and modernized the computer network at the corporation's Goldbelt Place offices. Some programs he found when he was first hired couldn't handle numbers in the billions. Since then, the computers used by fund mangers have been put on par with investors closer to Wall Street.

``It helps put us on an even footing with the people back east and the Lower 48,'' Riccio said.



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