Bill would divert oil dollars to education

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- Some House Republicans want to divert part of the stream of oil money now going into the Alaska Permanent Fund.

But when a House committee considered the issue Wednesday, members didn't endorse a perennial bill to switch about $54 million from the permanent fund to the state treasury. But they moved it out of committee anyway.

Rep. Norman Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, sponsored House Bill 11.

He defended it before the House Resources Committee, saying the change could help stave off $28 million in education cuts proposed by the governor while having a minimal impact on the dividends paid to Alaskans.

''Some members have voiced concerns that this bill could be construed as a raid on the permanent fund,'' Rokeberg wrote to House members this week. ''It is not!''

Under Rokeberg's bill, the permanent fund would receive 25 percent of the state oil revenues, the percentage mandated by the state constitution.

But his bill would repeal a 1980 measure that gives even more to the fund. The Legislature voted at that time to automatically route 50 percent of oil royalties and bonuses from new leases to the permanent fund.

Those post-1980 leases now yield about 25 percent of the state's oil. And with the state facing huge budget deficits, Rokeberg says it's time to roll back the extra fund contribution.

The state Department of Revenue says the measure would cut dividends about $20 per Alaskan by 2012. Rokeberg argues that changes in the stock market would affect dividends more than his bill.

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Kelly Wolf, R-Kenai, said the proposal might be a way to avoid eliminating the $47 million longevity bonus program, as Gov. Frank Murkowski has proposed.

Rokeberg has pushed the bill for years without success.

The House Resources Committee moved the bill out of committee on Wednesday without endorsing it. Reps. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau; David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks; Carl Gatto, R-Palmer; Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, Hugh Fate, R-Fairbanks; Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski; and Wolf gave no recommendations.

House Resources vice chairwoman Beverly Masek, R-Willow, said she would vote against the bill, arguing a poor stock market has already had an impact on the fund.

Democrats also object to the measure unless it is part of an overall package that addresses the state's fiscal problems.

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