Alaska looks at Ways for Residents to Give to Government

    JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Legislature already is cutting into the amount of the yearly oil-wealth fund check given to residents to help pay for state government.

    Now, lawmakers are looking at other ways for residents to spend more of their check — to help pay for state government.

    One proposal would set up a raffle to benefit schools, with a minimum buy-in of $100 from a resident's Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. Twenty-five percent of entry dollars would go toward the prize fund.

    So, if residents spend $400,000 of their oil checks on entry fees, half of that — or $200,000 — would go to public education. The other 25 percent would go toward a new school endowment.

    That would leave $100,000 for the prize fund. Four winners will share in the prize money.

    The top winner will get 8 percent of the fund's balance — in this scenario, $8,000 — while the other names drawn will receive, respectively, 4 percent, 2 percent and 1 percent, meaning the winners will share in 15 percent of the prize fund.

    The other 85 percent will stay in the account, accruing over time until it tops out at $300 million dollars — the highest it can get — with payouts growing as the fund grows. Any money above that would go into the school endowment

    Another bill, which passed the Senate, would let residents donate all or part of their Alaska Permanent Fund dividend to the state treasury to help pay Alaska's bills.

    All this comes as lawmakers, deadlocked on taxes, look for alternatives to bolster state coffers in response to a persistent state budget deficit. It also comes amid a roiling political debate over the future of the dividend.

    Alaska has no state sales or personal income tax.

    The size of the yearly check paid to residents has been capped at $1,022 and $1,100 the past two years, and lawmakers propose limiting it again this year as they prepare to use earnings from the oil-wealth fund for the first time to help fill the deficit.

    The fund, seeded with oil money, has grown through investments. While legislators have long been able to take money from the fund's earnings, they have been reluctant to do so for fear of being accused of raiding the account. But with savings accounts drawn down, oil revenue still sagging and differences over taxes and budget cuts, there isn't much recourse.

    Lawmakers are seeking to limit the total amount taken from earnings in a year, based on a percentage of the fund's value, in hopes of ensuring long-term, sustainable draws for dividends and government costs.

    Budget proposals call for a $1,600 check this year, $500 more than last year but about $1,000 less than if the state followed the existing calculation in law that's been ignored as lawmakers have debated how best to tackle the deficit.

    Sen. Click Bishop, a Republican from Fairbanks sponsoring the raffle bill, sees it as a fun way to support a good cause. But critics worry it will compete with nonprofits for donations.

    The dividend is discretionary income to some and critical to others. Rep. David Guttenberg, a Fairbanks Democrat, said people with lower incomes gamble at disproportionate levels to higher-income people. "And now we're going to put a temptation in front of them to gamble it away," he said.

    Rep. Tammie Wilson, a North Pole Republican, said lawmakers have been encouraged to be innovative.

    The money for schools is intended to supplement state aid.

    A version of the bill, which last year passed the Senate, cleared a key House committee Monday.

    As for the other bill, Sen. David Wilson, a Wasilla Republican, said he's heard from Alaskans who wouldn't mind giving some of their income or dividend to the state.

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