Energy rebate proposal gains more traction in Legislature

Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2008

ANCHORAGE - An energy rebate proposal that would provide each Alaskan with a $500 check is getting consideration from lawmakers in Juneau.

Members of the House Finance Committee held a hearing this week focusing on whether each Alaskan should get the money, or just lower income residents.

The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines. It proposes tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund profits to cover the $300 million cost of providing the energy rebate to each Alaskan. The money would be added to the PFD check this fall.

The bill has a long way to go in Juneau. It will have to pass out of committee, then to the House and then on to the Senate, where it is expected to be less well-received.

The committee's co-chairmen, Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, sounded Wednesday as though they're seriously considering a mass payout as a way to share Alaska's multibillion-dollar oil revenue surplus.

"The governor's been very clear that Alaska oil is the people's oil and that's why we have all this extra money, bottom line, is because of the oil, and so we should share it with the people of Alaska - all the people of Alaska," Meyer said.

He argued against the notion that the government knows how to spend the money more wisely than ordinary citizens, and said people shouldn't be denied a check based on whether they're rich or poor.

"I wholeheartedly agree," Chenault said. "I don't know where we get the Robin Hood mentality."

Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, said he understands how handing out money to the people could be a tempting move for politicians. But he said he'd rather see the state invest in alternative energy projects such as wind and geothermal to wean Alaskans off high-priced fuels, not hand out money.

Fuel prices are likely to be high again next year, he said.

"Once we've issued this check to everybody across the state, then it's going to be hard not to issue it next year or the year after or the year after," Crawford said.

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