Alaska governor vetoes amount of this year’s oil check
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Thursday he has vetoed from a state spending package this year’s dividend check for residents, calling the amount “a joke.”
The budget lawmakers voted on last month proposed a roughly $1,100 dividend but tied part of the funding to reserve accounts that required three-fourths support in each the House and the Senate. But the vote failed, leaving the dividend at $525, the lowest since the mid-1980s.
Dunleavy said that is less than two days’ worth of per diem that lawmakers can collect. His office said he cut $2 million from the Legislature’s budget, with the cut aimed at the $293-a-day allowance.
The move “will not be appreciated by some” lawmakers, Dunleavy said. But the budget sent him was incomplete, with funding for a number of other programs and projects also affected by the three-quarter vote failure, he said.
Lawmakers had acknowledged the funding holes, including the short-changed dividend, and said they planned to work toward a resolution. They ended their second special session Monday after meeting almost continuously since January.
Dunleavy, who has not yet announced his re-election plans for next year, is pushing for a dividend this year in the $2,300-range, along with a restructuring of the nest-egg oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, and a proposal that would put a dividend formula in the state constitution.
The dividend, traditionally paid with permanent fund earnings, has become a time-consuming preoccupation for lawmakers, particularly as the state has come to rely on earnings from the fund to help pay for government as oil revenue has shrunk from what it was a decade ago.
While many lawmakers share Dunleavy’s stated desire for a long-term solution to the dividend, there is no agreed-upon path and debate over the size of the check continues to be divisive and messy, even among political caucuses. The House earlier this week agreed to form a working group, with members from all four legislative caucuses, to make recommendations on a fiscal plan.
House Speaker Louise Stutes said Dunleavy’s decision on the dividend and other “damaging” vetoes create uncertainty.
“Alaskans should rest assured that we will continue our efforts to provide a healthy dividend and the services they deserve,” the Kodiak Republican said.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, an Anchorage Democrat, said the vetoes “reflect the pettiness” of Dunleavy’s first year in office. Cuts proposed by Dunleavy that year fueled public outrage and a recall effort against him.
Dunleavy’s office said he was committed to calling on legislators to pass a “legitimate” dividend. A special session is set for August, though the dividend was not on the original agenda. Dividend checks are usually paid in the early fall.
Dunleavy said a lot can be done in the next few weeks.
“We’re going to have to put Alaska first. We’re going to have to put Alaskans first. Government is well-funded right now, but many Alaskans are still struggling” from the economic fallout from the pandemic, he said.
Some lawmakers had criticized the administration in May when it announced plans to stop participating in a federal program that provides an extra $300 a week in unemployment aid. The state labor commissioner said workers were needed for a wide range of available jobs.
Other vetoes announced Thursday include cuts to a school major maintenance fund and a community assistance program, cuts to which would hurt local governments, according to the Alaska Municipal League.
Dunleavy’s budget office said federal recovery aid would offset the cut to community assistance, which the municipal league disputed.