JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska House’s populist vote earlier this week to pay Alaskans the full amount for their oil-wealth fund checks was undone Friday, as House leaders hoped to clear the way for a budget vote.
Lawmakers on Friday rescinded the earlier vote after debate over Alaska Permanent Fund dividends gummed up efforts to pass and send to the Senate a state operating budget.
Rather than a full payout, estimated at about $2,650, lawmakers voted for a $1,600 dividend this year.
Monday’s vote for a fully funded dividend, held during a drawn-out budget debate, split the House majority and spurred minority Republicans to seek bigger budget cuts to win over their members.
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A handful of majority Democrats who supported a full dividend Monday, including House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, backed undoing that vote Friday.
Edgmon, of Dillingham, said it was one of the most painful decisions he’s made. Edgmon has said he represents “some of the poorest Alaskans,” who rely on the dividend for basic necessities.
But he told reporters Friday that after speaking with House and Senate members it became clear that there is insufficient support for a full dividend this year.
Faced with trying to get a budget passed, and the option to support a higher payout than last year’s $1,100 dividends, he said he supported providing a $1,600 check, which he thinks is a level that could garner broader support.
A final vote on the overall spending bill is pending. Edgmon said he’s confident he now has the votes to pass it.
A spokesman for the Senate majority had no comment on the House’s budget deliberations.
The formula in state law for calculating dividends has been ignored the last two years amid legislative gridlock on addressing Alaska’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit. Dividends are paid using permanent fund earnings, and Gov. Bill Walker and lawmakers are eyeing some use of earnings to help fill the budget hole.
However, the House majority, composed largely of Democrats, and the Republican-led Senate have disagreed on what else should be done.
Democrats have favored a broad-based tax, like an income tax, and resisted deeper budget cuts. The Senate last year rejected an income tax, and GOP lawmakers say there’s room for further cuts.
Supporters of a full dividend had argued that Alaskans shouldn’t be the only ones paying. Critics, meanwhile, said a full dividend was fiscally reckless.
Republican Rep. DeLena Johnson of Palmer said there’s a law on the books for calculating dividends that should be followed.