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Empire Editorial: Therriault proposal worth considering, beyond the payoffs

Posted: Sunday, March 21, 2004

A laskans should consider this: Do they really want this state to be known as the one that couldn't balance its budget until it paid off its citizens?

Offering a bonus check to Alaskans if they vote for a change to the Alaska Permanent Fund is part of a proposal presented this week by Senate President Gene Therriault. The North Pole Republican has suggested sending out a second batch of permanent fund dividend checks if voters approve a constitutional amendment that will change the way the fund is managed.

The senator said the second checks would show voters what the difference in the dividends could be under what is known as the percent-of-market-value, or POMV, plan. That plan would buffer the permanent fund from the ups and downs of the market. Some lawmakers also view the POMV plan as a step toward using the fund to cover some government costs. A constitutional amendment is needed to put the POMV plan into effect.

It shouldn't be necessary to bribe voters to approve a fiscally prudent plan, but the bonus proposal is just one small part of Therriault's plan and is not even a core part of the proposal.

The senator deserves credit for trying to come up with a way to break down the wall of public opposition erected against any proposals affecting Alaskans' annual dividend checks. Therriault is trying to soothe the fears of those who think the Legislature will raid the fund to pay for state government and leave them without dividends.

Therriault's plan has some strong elements. One is retaining the constitutional restriction that prevents spending the principal of the fund. The current POMV plan would do away with this restriction and Therriault is wise to keep it in place.

Another excellent part of this plan is that it would change the state constitution so that money from the permanent fund would be spent on only two things: dividend checks and public schools. Alaska should be using the permanent fund to cover some of its costs, but the fund should not be the only solution to the state's fiscal woes. By limiting use of permanent fund dollars to dividends and schools, the state is forced to continue looking at other options to fill the state's deficit. This part of the proposal also prevents what some have feared would be an all-out raid on the permanent fund.

Therriault is also proposing that the Legislature put into law what percentage of the fund would be used for government costs and dividends before voters decide on the constitutional amendment. This is yet another way to assure voters that their dividends will be protected.

Alaskans should support Therriault's proposal, not because they could get an extra few hundred dollars this year from it. That's the one part of the plan that should be dropped because it shouldn't be necessary to pay Alaskans to support fiscal prudence. Rather, people should back Therriault's plan because it's a sound and reasonable effort to address the concerns of Alaskans and because it makes fiscal sense.



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