Almost 17,000 Alaskans living outside of the state received dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund last year - removing about $19 million from the state's economy - and many may never return to live here.
A new bill in the Legislature would prevent them from receiving their dividends until they return and live in Alaska for at least one year.
Recipients' dividends would be held while they are absent from the state, under House Bill 547, introduced this week by the House State Affairs Committee.
Proponents of the bill say it would keep the money in the state and bring back college students and highly trained members of the military following their time spent Outside.
"The bill incites our best and brightest to return to Alaska by offering them past years' dividends for the time when they return," said Chris Knight, a staff member for Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, who spearheaded the bill. "The thought was to get people to come back to the state and sort of remove this thought that there might be fraud of the distribution of permanent fund dividends."
Seaton said the proposal would not change any of the allowable absence laws already established by the state.
He said the proposal would help ameliorate the Alaska "brain drain," a term used to describe high school students leaving Alaska for college and never returning.
Knight said a group of nine friends of his in high school left Alaska for college and only two returned.
"The idea that if there was $8,000 or $9,000 of past years' dividends sitting there waiting for them, they probably would have come back and started a business here or gotten a good job here or contributed to the state in some manner," Knight said.
Seaton said he got the idea for the proposal from a constituent in the U.S. Coast Guard who told anecdotes of military personnel working the system to collect a dividend without living in Alaska or planning to move back.
He said many in the military agree with the idea of holding dividends because they see it as an abuse of the system.
Under the current system, members of the military can live outside the state for 10 years and still receive dividends by applying annually and returning to Alaska for at least 72 hours every two years.
Paul Dick with the Alaska Permanent Fund Division was uncertain of the number of military applicants who filed from out of state but said: "I believe the numbers would come out showing that they are mostly military, particularly with the children."
Seaton said luring back members of the military could be a plus for the state.
"The military, by the time they've gone through the military ... they've gained a lot of experience. They are very technologically advanced. They are great citizens to have come back," Seaton said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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