Vote put off on use of permafund

House speaker says delay was necessary because of two absences

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2004

The state House is delaying until Monday a vote that could lead to tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for state government in future years.

Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said the House did not take up the issue Friday, as scheduled, because two members were absent.

"It's an important enough issue and a close enough vote that we need everybody here," Kott said. Reps. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, and Nancy Dahlstrom, R-Eagle River, had excused absences Friday.

The House was scheduled to vote on a constitutional amendment that would change the method of calculating distributions from the $27.9 billion permanent fund, Alaska's oil-wealth savings account.

A bill accompanying the amendment calls for the $1.3 billion available under the new formula to be split evenly between education and the annual dividends that go to Alaska residents.

Putting a constitutional amendment before voters requires a two-thirds vote, which equates to 27 votes in the House and 14 in the Senate. Kott said he does not know how many representatives will support the bill.

"Everybody's going back and forth," Kott said. "The longer you wait, I think the harder it gets for a lot of folks."

Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said Senate President Gene Therriault had asked the House to slow down on the issue.

Therriault, R-North Pole, said he's hoping to persuade the House to send over a measure that is close to something that might be acceptable in the Senate. But it's not certain what that would be.

Some reference to continued payment of dividends in the constitution might help bring some senators on board, Therriault said, although he could not guarantee that would generate enough support.

The House on Thursday voted down an amendment to the proposal that would have enshrined in the constitution Alaskans' right to continue receiving annual dividends at the level currently provided in state statute.

Representatives also voted down a constitutional guarantee that fund earnings go to dividends and education.

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