Sitkans wait for a turn to give testimony to the Senate State Affairs Committee. 30 Sitkans signed up, but only 22 were able to speak during Thursday’s (2/28/19) hearing (Photo/Ken Fate/LIO)

After hearing a flood of testimony last week (2-28-19), the Senate State Affairs Committee is giving Alaskans two more chances to offer feedback on Senate Bills 23 and 24, legislation that would authorize a full Permanent Fund Dividend and backpay the difference on previously cut PFDs.

After running out of time for the 167 people who signed up last Thursday, the committee will take more public testimony this Tuesday and Thursday night.

167 Alaskans signed up to testify before the Senate State Affairs committee last Thursday (2/28/19). 30 Sitkans waited at the local Legislative Information Office for their turn to speak to the committee about SB23 and SB24- two bills that would authorize a full Permanent Fund Dividend and back payments of portions of the dividend that were cut by the legislature and vetoed by Governor Bill Walker during his administration.

During the two hour meeting, testimony was limited to one minute per person. But only 22 Sitkans were able to speak before the committee chair ended the meeting shortly after 8 p.m. Those who spoke were opposed to the senate bills, concerned that big PFDs come with other costs. Larry Calvin called the PFD promise “a bribe.”

“Why is our governor wanting to clean up the swamp?” Calvin asked.
“Those swampy things like education, ferries, swimming pools and towns. He’s doing this because he and his financial well-off associates don’t want state income tax.”

“Why are they so eager to increase the Permanent Fund Dividend?” he continued. “That is a bribe that buys the vote of the many dearly needing the dividend.”

Sitkan Amy Sweeney said she didn’t want a bigger PFD, or any at all, if it came at the expense of government services.

“I am willing to give up my entire PFD and pay state income tax in order to make money available for government services we all need,” she said.

Sitkan Sue Litman voiced her concern about a big PFD payout happening in conjunction with cuts to public education:25 percent cut to K-12 funding and a 41 percent cut to state funding of the university system under Governor Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget.

“It is sometimes nice to receive free money. However this is not one of those times,” Litman said. “The money to fund additional permanent fund dividends will come at great expense to all public schools in the state of Alaska.”

Donald Westland in Ketchikan said he opposed both bills, knowing he and others in coastal Alaska would be impacted by cuts to the state ferry system.

“I wish there was some way of me able to take and pick and click, and put my permanent fund the ferry system so I have a ferry system,” Westland said. “It is my highway.”

But not everyone was in favor of foregoing the PFD for state services. Earlier in the week, Governor Dunleavy tweeted a video, asking people to call in and show their support for SB 23 and SB 24.

“If you don’t get involved, if you don’t call in, politicians are going to think it’s okay to take your PFD and pay for a bloated government,” he said.

And some supporters did call in. During his testimony, Jack Detzel in Delta Junction voiced his support for the bill.

“I believe it’s imperative that the legislature right the ship, financially,  and quit spending money. The people that created the permanent fund would be aghast,” Detzel said. “The state residents that elected Governor Dunleavy by a wide margin support this. There’s plenty of opportunity for you to consolidate. I would implore the committee to do those things prior to taking more dividends from the people.”

And Earl Lackey, of the Mat-Su, said he thought bigger PFDs actually made sense economically.

“If we’re going to pay out PFDs with the finances short, it still makes sense,” he said. “By  giving out the PFDs now we’re going to jump start our economy up here and get things rolling the way they should in the state.”  

Nevertheless, the majority of testimony given was in favor of state services over a full PFD with back pay. The Senate State Affairs committee will offer two more opportunities to testify on the PFD bills- Tuesday March 5 at 6 p.m. and, if needed, Thursday March 7 at 6. Testimony on Tuesday will be limited to one minute.