GOP kills effort to guarantee dividend

Republicans say they don't have enough support to put measure before voters

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Republicans on Tuesday swatted down a Democrat plan to guarantee the Alaska Permanent Fund would continue to pay dividends to eligible Alaskans.

The action by the House State Affairs Committee is the first volley in negotiations between the two sides over a permanent fund compromise.

Gov. Frank Murkowski has asked the Legislature to consider using a portion of the $28 billion fund to help close the state's chronic budget shortfall.

Republican leaders say they don't have enough support within their caucuses to muster the two-thirds vote needed to put such a measure before voters in 2004.

Minority Democrats are demanding voters have a chance to consider a constitutional amendment that would guarantee a dividend be paid from the fund.

"We want protection for the permanent fund and we want protection for the permanent fund dividend," said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage. "Those are absolute bottom lines for us."

House Joint Resolution 3, co-sponsored by Anchorage Reps. Harry Crawford and Eric Croft, would put the promise of a permanent fund dividend into the Alaska Constitution.

It would also require 60 percent approval from voters to use permanent fund money for state government.

The House State Affairs Committee rejected a motion to move the bill from committee by a 3-3 vote.

House State Affairs Chairman Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, said he would vote against the proposal at every opportunity. It should be left to the Legislature whether to use the money for state government or to pay dividends, Weyhrauch said.

"Nowhere in this constitution do we say that people have a right to a check," Weyhrauch said.

The House State Affairs Committee is the first stop for the resolution that must also clear the House Judiciary and Finance committees before moving to the Senate.

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, cast the lone Republican vote to move it from committee. Lynn said he does not support it but wanted debate to continue on the issue. Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, was absent and could not be reached for comment.

Weyhrauch said he will bring the resolution up for another vote during the next meeting, scheduled for Thursday.

This is the first time this session lawmakers have tackled the issue of including the promise of a dividend in the constitution since it was recommended by the Conference of Alaskans.

The group of 55 Alaskans, created by Gov. Murkowski to consider whether to use some of the permanent fund for state government, met in Fairbanks Feb. 10-12.

House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, also voted against the bill during committee action. But that's not the final word from House GOP lawmakers, Coghill said.

Some lawmakers have considered a "dividend light" proposal that would put into the constitution, in general terms, that a dividend will be paid, Coghill said. But that proposal doesn't tie the hands of lawmakers in the way HJR3 does, Coghill said.

"I think there's some negotiating room around that concept. The more specific it gets, the less likely it's going to get into the constitution in my view," Coghill said.

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