Alaska Senate seeking $1,600 dividend payment

    The Alaska State Capitol in downtown Juneau.

    Juneau, Alaska (AP) - A new Alaska Senate bill aimed at breaking a special session logjam proposes a $1,600 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend this year and sets the stage for a high-stakes, public debate on the issue.

    Senate President Cathy Giessel said Monday the proposed amount is "doable," and it's consistent with last year's payout. But the Anchorage Republican noted the bill could be amended. Debate on the Senate floor is expected as early as Tuesday.

    "What comes out of that, I have no way of knowing, no way to predict," she said, adding later: "This is a very high risk action, but I don't see any other way to move this forward."

    Estimates indicate that if the existing dividend calculation were followed, a full payout would be around $3,000 this year. Payouts have been reduced the last three years amid an ongoing budget deficit.

    Disagreements over how to handle the dividend have stalled progress on a state operating budget, with the start of the new fiscal year weeks away. The bill is an effort to disentangle the two. A prior effort by the House to do so faltered.

    Meanwhile Governor Dunleavy is issuing a veto threat directed at the measure.   He called it a nonstarter and says he'd veto it if if passed.  Dunleavy  campaigned on a full dividend payout and has said no changes should be made to the dividend formula without a vote of the people.

    Last year, amid a continued draw-down of savings and disagreements over taxes and further budget cuts, lawmakers began using earnings from the state's oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, to help pay for state government. This created a rub with the dividend, which was long paid to qualified residents using fund earnings.

    Lawmakers last year also sought to limit what can be withdrawn from fund earnings for government and dividends. The amount for the upcoming fiscal year is $2.9 billion. A full dividend is expected to cost $1.9 billion.

    The bill introduced Monday would use funds from a reserve fund and a higher education investment fund to help pay for the dividend.

    The version of the operating budget that passed the Senate included a full dividend. Giessel said members of her Republican-led caucus indicated they were willing to support a full dividend this year "if other contingencies were met, that is, the formula going forward would be changed after this year."

    She told reporters last week there has been discussion about a separate special session devoted to the dividend formula, saying she can speak only for the Senate.

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