Legislator floats gas-line dividend

I just have this quaint idea people can spend their money better than the government can.

Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2005

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A state legislator is hoping to sell his idea for what to do with revenue generated from a proposed pipeline: set up a special permanent fund that would pay dividends to Alaska residents.

"I just have this quaint idea people can spend their money better than the government can," said Rep. Bob Lynn.

The Anchorage Republican said the dividends perhaps could be split between the public and local governments.

Chuck Logsdon, the state's gas pipeline spokesman, said it's not possible to give a solid estimate of how much revenue would come to Alaska if the proposed gas line from the North Slope gets built. It depends on how and where the project is built, the taxes and other factors.

But, Logsdon said, a number that has been "tossed around" is as much as $2 billion or so in revenue a year if gas prices were about $5.50 per thousand cubic feet. The price climbed to over $9 this week, but that is exceptionally high. In 1995, it was $1.55.

"Suffice it to say it would be billions and billions of dollars (at the current price)," said Logsdon, who until recently was the state's chief petroleum economist.

The state general operating budget was $2.33 billion for the fiscal year ended June 30.

Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, sounded skeptical about Lynn's idea.

"Well, we already have one (Permanent Fund)," Weyhrauch said. "I don't know if there is a reason to duplicate it just because someone else wants to be the father of a permanent fund."

Weyhrauch said it would make more sense to put the gas revenue into the existing Permanent Fund - and start using fund earnings to help pay for state services.

It's premature to start talking about what to do with gas money, said Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, who co-chairs the House Finance Committee.

But Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said it's a good call for Lynn to at least suggest it, although she needs to think about whether it would be a good idea.

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