Alaska Senate votes for bigger dividend during budget debate
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Senate passed a state spending package Tuesday that includes dividends of about $4,200 to residents this year plus “energy relief” checks of $1,300.
The package passed 15-5 and next goes to the House, which will have to decide whether to agree with the Senate version. The House, in the version of the budget it passed in April, included a roughly $1,250 dividend and a $1,300 energy check.
Differences between the budgets that pass each chamber are typically settled in a conference committee. The regular session is set to end by May 18.
Debate over the annual size of the dividend, traditionally paid with earnings from the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, has roiled the Legislature in recent years.
The Senate, during debate on the budget Monday, voted 10-9 in support of a dividend of about $4,200, calculated in line with a formula that was last used in 2015. The cost for that size dividend would be nearly $2.8 billion.
Many lawmakers have said that formula is unsustainable but the Legislature has not set a new one. Lawmakers instead have been setting the yearly payout.
The budget bill as it came to the Senate floor had called for a dividend of about $2,500 this year.
The state Supreme Court has ruled that absent a constitutional amendment, the dividend must compete for funds like other state programs. One year of funding for K-12 public schools, for comparison, is about $1.2 billion.
The cost of the proposed energy payment is estimated at $840 million.
Supporters of the Senate approach said Alaskans can use the financial help. Critics said it is not fiscally prudent.