Alaska editorial: Permanent fund earnings should pay for services

Posted: Friday, October 06, 2006

This editorial appeared in the Kenai Peninsula Clarion:

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It's that time of year to remember how good Alaskans have it. Last month, the governor announced the amount of this year's permanent fund dividend check will be $1,106.96. It will be distributed to an estimated 602,350 Alaskans.

This will be the 25th dividend that has been paid to Alaskans from the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund. More than $14.2 billion has been distributed to Alaskans since the program began in 1982.

While dividend time is a great time of year to count our blessings, it's also a good opportunity to ponder if we as individuals do any better job of planning than the politicians we criticize. Take our dividends, for example. According to the Alaska Department of Revenue, individual Alaskans who have collected all 25 dividends have received a total of $25,884.59. Someone who has invested every dividend and earned 6 percent would now have $50,232.52. That's no small change. Wonder how many Alaskans' bank accounts are that much larger because they banked their dividends, saving them for a rainy day?

The permanent fund's total value as of earlier this week was a whopping $34.6 billion. Billion. And that's a hefty reminder that Alaska is not poor by any stretch of the imagination.

That's why it's vexing that there are so many unmet needs in Alaska - everything from roads and schools in need of maintenance for safety's sake to more money for education to reduce class sizes, increase program offerings and ensure Alaska's young people are prepared for the future. Those kinds of things aren't frills.

Dividend time provides the perfect opportunity to ponder why the permanent fund and its dividend program were created. Far-sighted Alaskans saw the opportunity to use the state's oil wealth to create a "rainy day account" for the day when oil revenues, which largely funded state government, would diminish. Legislators correctly saw that dividends would give Alaskans a vested interest in the permanent fund and a desire to protect it. Those forward-thinking Alaskans who created the permanent fund and the dividend program didn't intend for those great programs to be protected at any cost while the quality of life deteriorated throughout Alaska.

Just as Alaskans will look for the wisest and best use of their dividend checks, they should urge legislators to consider the wisest and best use of permanent fund earnings. Has the time come to use a portion of those earnings to help pay for some of the government services that Alaskans deserve and expect?

Our answer is a resounding yes.

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