The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. is planning to spend up to $1.6 million on television and radio advertisements promoting a new method of calculating dividends, and a newly formed citizens' group says it's a misuse of public money.
Permanent-fund trustees say the new method of managing the $27 billion account is necessary to protect it but implementing the plan will take an amendment to the state Constitution. That requires legislative approval and a vote of the people in the next statewide election, scheduled for November.
Bob Bartholomew, chief operating officer of the Permanent Fund Corp., said the ads will educate voters on the weaknesses of the current system and strengths of the proposed new one.
"We're not asking them to vote for it or support it," he said. "We talked about the risk of the negative public reaction, and we said the benefits outweigh the negative public reaction."
Bartholomew said the proposed percent of market value, or POMV, method of managing the fund is a separate issue from how to spend the earnings, which are used to pay dividend checks to every eligible man, woman and child in the state.
Some state lawmakers propose dividing the earnings of the fund's investments between state government and dividend checks.
Gov. Frank Murkowski also has called a conference of 55 Alaskans to be held in Fairbanks on Feb. 10-12 to discuss whether the fund should be used for state services, and to make recommendations to the Legislature.
The Conference of Alaskans is expected to cost about $274,000, according to Murkowski spokesman John Manly.
Eddie Burke, chairman of Alaskans, Just Say No, a group formed to fight any change to the Alaska Permanent Fund, said his group opposes the POMV method and using fund earnings on state government.
"Asking for more money is not a plan - it's simply a tax," Burke said, calling the television and radio ads an attempt to "brainwash" the public.
Wasilla Republican Rep. Vic Kohring, a member of Alaskans, Just Say No, said he also opposes the commercial ads.
"They are trying to educate the people to see things from their perspective," Kohring said. "POMV, to me, is just a creative way to spend the permanent fund."
He said the POMV plan would lead to the Legislature eventually using all of the earnings for government and leaving nothing for dividend checks.
Burke also argued that the Conference of Alaskans is a waste of public money and that the forum was set up to provide political cover for Murkowski, who has not said whether he supports use of permanent fund earnings on state services.
"We are spending $200,000 of the people's money to send 55 people up there for a predetermined outcome," Burke said, noting that he believes the conference will recommend dipping into the fund.
Spokesman Manly implored critics of POMV and the conference to withhold judgment until the group puts forth a recommendation.
"It's jumping the gun to assume there is a predetermined outcome," Manly said. "I hope they'll hold their fire to see what the conference proposes. Maybe they'll change their name to Just Say Yes."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.