Dividend amount is $1,540

591,537 Alaskans will get the check - with 7,700 still under review

Posted: Thursday, September 26, 2002

Every eligible man, woman and child in Alaska will receive a permanent fund dividend of $1,540.76 this fall.

A total of $911.42 million will be sent to Alaskans in the form of a dividend this year.

Larry Persily, deputy commissioner at the state Department of Revenue, said 591,537 Alaskans will receive a check. About 7,700 dividend applications still are under review, Persily said.

Alaskans getting dividends deposited directly into their bank accounts - about three quarters of all recipients - will receive the funds Oct. 9.

Checks sent by mail, beginning Oct. 17, should take about two to three weeks to arrive.

The number of people receiving dividends this year is up from the 586,052 people who got one last year. The total amount of the dividend is down by about $310 from last year's total of $1,850.28. Persily said the drop is due entirely to the depression in the stock market.

Dividends reached an all-time high in 2000 with payouts of $1,963.86. That year the oil-wealth savings account's total market value was $26.5 billion. This year the fund is valued at $23.5 billion.

The fund was created in 1976 when the voters passed a constitutional amendment giving 25 percent of the state's mineral royalties, largely oil and gas payments, and related income to the fund. This totals about 10 percent of all state income.

The state created the dividend program in 1980 and started sending checks to Alaskan residents in 1982.

The announcement of this year's total was given by outgoing permanent fund trustee and state Revenue Commissioner Wilson Condon.

He said Alaska was not challenged much in its first 20 years of its oil wealth when "money flowed like hot oil from the cold ground, and permanent fund dividends rained, well, like it's raining in Juneau right now."

Things would not be as easy in coming years, though, Condon said.

"Although some may choose to avoid reality, we are quickly approaching the day when Alaskans will have to help pay for the society that we enjoy," Condon said.

Condon used the nursery rhyme "Old Mother Hubbard" to describe the relationship between the state of Alaska and the permanent fund.

"Remember the nursery rhyme about Old Mother Hubbard? She went to her cupboard to give her poor dog a bone. But when she got there, her cupboard was bare, and so the poor dog had none," Condon said.

The Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund, used each year to cover the difference between revenues and state expenses, is on its way to going bare, Condon said. Revenue forecasts by the Department of Revenue show that fund going dry by 2004, leaving the state with a $1 billion fiscal gap.

"It is inevitable that the answer to keeping food in that cupboard is going to include some use of permanent fund earnings," Condon said.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com

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