There Is Only One Way To Stop Attacks On The PFD

Contributed by Captain David Eastman, Candidate Alaska State House District 10

Our elected representatives have a choice to make. It’s the same choice they make every time they go down to Juneau. Are they willing to see themselves as expendable for the sake of something greater than their political careers, or is getting re-elected the box in which they live and move and find their personal meaning?

As an Army officer, when I took soldiers into a combat zone, I knew that the mission was larger than any one of us. And while I offered prayers of thanks each time we returned to Alaska from an overseas deployment, it did not change the fact that our state and our nation would have carried on if one of us had fallen.

If one of us had been taken prisoner by the Taliban, it would have been unthinkable that the president would hand the keys to the city over to terrorists in exchange for a single soldier. To be expendable does not diminish the value of your life or service, it puts it up against the lives and families of those you are fighting to protect, and says that their lives and freedom are worth your sacrifice, if it comes to that.

This year’s PFD is expected to be in the neighborhood of $2,200. That is, if the State Dept. of Revenue follows state law as set forth in AS 43.23.025. The calculation of the PFD is set in statute, and is therefore determined by state law. If the Dept. of Revenue does not follow the law, each of us will rightly be able to say that we were robbed by our own government.

When it was created by the legislature, and signed into law by Gov. Hammond, the PFD was never intended to be included as a budget item or contingent on passage of the state budget. 

Initially, state budgets reflected this truth and did not pretend, symbolically or otherwise, to reauthorize distribution of the PFD each year. This is because the PFD is not an appropriation from the general fund. By law, it is paid from the dividend fund, over which the governor has no authority. Even the legislature does not have the ability to alter the PFD calculation without first approving the change in each legislative chamber and then securing the approval of the governor, following the same process required of every revision to state law.

What this means is that the governor has not “cut” anything, except the law. And if he directs the Dept. of Revenue to ignore state law in distributing less than the full amount of the dividend in October, then he should be held to account for directing a state agency to violate state law. The full amount of the PFD is owed to every eligible Alaskan, with a date set in statute by which it is to be paid (according to AS 43.23.055(2) that date is December 31, 2016).

Again, state law does not simply permit the PFD to be distributed, at the discretion of the governor. AS 43.23.055(2) declares: “The department shall annually pay permanent fund dividends from the dividend fund.” And to obstruct timely payment of that amount is no less theft than spending it for some unauthorized purpose.

If you are like my family, your PFD is included in the family budget, just as it is a significant part of the budget for the many businesses throughout our state who target sales, promotions, or loans based on the timely distribution of the PFD. Would Americans sit by if Obama told the IRS not to issue tax refunds this year “because the government needed the money”? I think not. Such an action would be rightly seen as government theft of personal property owed to its rightful owner. An IRS promise to include it with next year’s refund, does nothing for this year’s family or company budget, or the rent, mortgage, car insurance, and other expenses that still have to come out of that budget this year. People are always hurt when government fails in its obligations.

And where is our legislature in all this? Have they followed the example of America’s founders and opposed “with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people”? No? According to the news, the question this week is whether they will even take a vote on whether to oppose the governor’s raid on the PFD. And why is that?

I believe it is because those who have been in the legislature a decade or more, like my opponent Rep. Keller, well know that they have voted for each and every unsustainable budget that brought us to the place in which we find ourselves today. The governor is clearly wrong today, but an equal share falls on those republican legislators who have placed their political careers over voting against the very same unsustainable budgets that they now tell us they oppose.

Rep. Reinbold has stood alone among her republican colleagues in voting against budgets that were clearly unsustainable. For that vote, she was removed from the majority caucus and two of her staffers were laid off. Today, her colleagues clamor about protecting the PFD, the very same PFD that they put in jeopardy by going along with and giving their support to budgets that they knew were unsustainable, and told us that they would oppose once they were elected. Year, after year, after year.

In the situation in which we find ourselves today, there is only one way to protect the PFD from attack. That is to hold our governor accountable for his actions, and to hold our legislators accountable for theirs. And if you vote to send them back to Juneau for another term, do so knowing that past behavior is often an excellent predictor of future behavior-only next time we won’t just be talking about a $1,000 PFD. Before too long, that discussion will shift to the permanent fund itself.