Alaskans united on saving permanent fund dividend

My Turn

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2002

Recently, a group of well intended, life-long Alaskans reunited hopefully to save the Alaska permanent fund dividend from the Alaska Legislature's deceptive fiscal plan. We call ourselves the "83 Percent Coalition."

In the 1998-99 legislative session, a majority of the Legislature cooked-up a fiscal plan asking voters to give-up $500 of their PFD to fill the state budget gap. Voters supported our group's principals and rejected this plan by 83 percent. Prior to the public vote, former Sen. Al Adams called the plan, "half-baked." Ladies and gentleman, the Legislature is back in the kitchen.

Anchorage Daily News editors and most of the folks we elect will disagree with me, but the current debate about needing a fiscal plan is just a little amusing at best. It's good political spin to say, "We need a plan," because everyone likes a plan, but the only plan they all have in mind is, tax you and me, ending the PFD as we know it, to increase government spending. I call it the "Blank check plan."

This approach implies that a future legislature will comply with a past legislature's plan. The Alaska Constitution clearly does not allow for one legislature to bind or restrict a future legislature except for what is written in the State Constitution. Furthermore, the constitution does not allow for designated funds, so all new moneys would be simply deposited into the General Fund.

In contrast to the House, Senate leaders have been advocating "incremental action." In my opinion, this approach will build trust and confidence with the voters. Plans are nice, but action is what voters want and deserve from those we elect. Below are action steps that the Legislature should adopt before asking Alaska families to contribute:

1. A constitutional spending limit

2. Implementing cost savings and privatization recommendations

3. Require Alaska's largest industries to pay fair market taxes

4. Look for new revenues

Former legislator Ray Metcalf, a member of our group, has reviewed and published a study sponsored by the International Petroleum Fiscal Systems Database, an internationally recognized authority on oil field development.

The database establishes that BP is leaving the state with 22 percent more oil profits on average than any other place where they are currently drilling. Moreover, the research discloses that if the Legislature required BP to pay fair market taxes, Alaskans would be enjoying a $400 million to $600 million budget surplus.

Rep. Eldon Mulder, who co-chairs the House Finance Committee, has been reported saying he won't ask cruise-ship tourists for a head tax, but he favors asking residents for a portion of their PFD. Let me get this straight Eldon, you won't ask total strangers for 50 bucks, but you can't wait to snatch your neighbor's PFD?

Sen. John Cowdery served as co-chairman of the Privatization Commission. The commission produced 400 statewide cost saving and privatization ideas for the Legislature's implementation. Nearly three years later, nothing has been implemented.

House Speaker Brian Porter should quit spinning his wheels and look to Senate President Rick Halford and Senate Finance Co-Chairman Dave Donley, who seem to be exercising more prudent fiscal principles and have established solid records protecting the PFD.

Like before, our group promises to stand solid with Alaskans in attempting to save the dividend and bring attention to those in the Legislature who wish to pledge their political careers to big oil and big business instead of putting Alaska families first.

You would think the Legislature would have heard the message when 83 percent of Alaskans told them NO to tapping the PFD in 1999. So why are they back in the kitchen again? Voters forgot what they did and re-elected them. The next election is not until November allowing plenty of time for you to forget again.

Eddie Burke of Anchorage is vice chairman of District 19 for the Republican Party of Alaska.

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