Permanent fund earnings should be put to use

What others say

Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 2005

It's time for Alaska to give serious consideration to Walter J. Hickel's proposal to use a portion of Permanent Fund earnings as a community dividend.

The former governor's idea is a good one and we have said so. In planning for next year's session of the Legislature, somebody should be writing legislation for such community funding to be placed on the table in January.

Hickel's idea is simple and straightforward: Use half of the Permanent Fund earnings for individual dividend checks and direct the other half to the state's communities.

That would provide the annual checks the public is so accustomed to and help support the local services that same public demands.

A community dividend would not eliminate all the problems being faced by some rural Alaska towns and villages, but it could be a big help.

The fiscal situation has become so painful in portions of Bush Alaska that small cities and villages are laying off police officers, turning off street lights, sidelining snowplows and fighting the Internal Revenue Service over money needed to pay heat and power fuel bills.

It is entirely human to feel a responsibility to oneself. But the people of Alaska also used to (have) a notion of responsibility to each other, the feeling of shared destiny that resulted in writing of the Alaska Constitution and the achievement of statehood.

The Permanent Fund dividend checks have been an important item in the lives of many individuals, but they have come with a significant downside.

The feeling that Alaskans have a responsibility to each other seems to have given way to a ''Me, Me'' way of thinking and a battle for every dime that can be squeezed out of what is supposed to be an asset held in trust for all of the people.

It was widely understood at the time the fund was established that its purpose was to keep a portion of the then-burgeoning oil revenues for the future on behalf of all Alaskans.

The notion of individual dividends came several years later and was sold to the public as both providing a personal cash benefit from the fund and creating an incentive for all to keep a close eye on its governance.

Hickel's plan to have both individual and community dividends would provide direct benefits to each and every Alaskan — money for personal use, and dollars to help finance much-needed local civic projects.

People tend to see money spent at the state and national levels as having only an indirect benefit to them.

But under this plan, the theory goes, they would see money paid to them and to the town where they live as a worthwhile use of Permanent Fund earnings.

— The Voice of the (Anchorage) Times

Aug. 28



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