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Voices of the Clarion: Reporter quite able to spend his PFD

Posted: Sunday, September 18, 2005

Don't spend my Permanent Fund Dividend check for me. I can do it just fine, thank you.

Why is it that ever since I moved up here from the Lower 48, it seems people have their sights set on my Permanent Fund Dividend check? Heck, it started before I was even eligible to receive one.

I'm not talking about the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation officers who seem to think they can invest the oil and gas royalty checks more wisely than anyone else. Nor am I referring to the state's legislators who frequently eye the PFD checks as the thumb in the dike holding back wasteful spending like buying jets.

Nope. It's the locals who seem to have their eyes fixed on what I'm about to receive from the bounty of Alaska's decomposed prehistoric flora and fauna.

Just wait. This week, when the Guv announces how much we commoners will be getting in October, someone from around here is sure to say something to me like, "Well, yeah, but you can use your PFD," or "At least you've got your PFD to cover it."

Travel agents and pick-em-up truck peddlers seem to lead the pack when it comes to dangling deals before the masses every fall.

"Beat the winter rush. Fly to Hawaii now," say the get-out-of-town advisers.

Why would I? Isn't this the time of year for hurricanes in the Pacific? And, don't some of them take a bead on Hawaii?

I think I'd rather wait and travel to some tropical paradise when it's about 30 below here, my headlights barely penetrate the long hours of darkness and motorists are doing their slip-and-slide tricks on the Kenai Spur or Sterling highways.

Then there are those darn car dealers.

Sure I'd love to be tooling around in a brand spanking new, four-wheel-drive pickup with three or four pairs of headlights across the grill and jumbo towing gadgets on back, but I've only got 245,000 miles on my little two-wheel-drive job, and I've got my sights set on 400,000-plus — it's a Toyota.

Once upon a time, back in the day when I could shop at K-Mart in Kenai, just when the dividend amount was announced, the store manager all but blocked the entrance with disposable sofas.

I guess they were supposed to be disposable as they had no legs, no springs and in fact, no frames.

They were just these oversized pieces of foam rubber cut in the shape of a couch, and upholstered with some tough oleoresin fabric — ironically also a product of decaying dinosaurs.

The signs read: "Just what you need," or some such silliness.

Who in their right mind needed one?

I don't recall exactly what they were selling for, but I believe it was around $300 plus. I remember thinking it was about one-fourth of the dividend amount.

One year it was a co-worker talking about the amount employees are reimbursed for using their own vehicles on company business.

"They think, just because we're in Alaska and get the permanent fund, we don't deserve to get more for gas mileage (than employees in other parts of the country)," she said.

Then there was the year the electrician ran more than a thousand bucks over his estimate.

I had asked him to install all the electrical circuitry in a newly built garage, and he discovered some deficiencies in my home's electric system. The cost of enlarging the breaker box and correcting some grounding shortcuts would be about a grand.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad he spotted the problems and did the work, but it was the way he justified the added hit on my wallet.

"Well, at least you've got the permanent fund coming to cover it," he said.

Although it didn't happen to me personally, I learned two years ago that the court system now garnishes Alaskans' PFD checks in order to collect fines and court costs. How rude.

This year, I heard one of the Kenai Peninsula cities received approval from the state to begin going after people's dividend checks to collect back parking ticket fines and unpaid utility bills.

That, I learned, is not the only municipality around here engaged in such dastardly deeds. Rude, rude.

Before I made the move to Alaska, I was led to believe the Permanent Fund Dividend was an unencumbered windfall for every man, woman and child who lived up here.

Once I arrived that May, I learned I had to live here a year before I qualified for the dividend.

The next year, I learned, more accurately, I had to live in the state for one full calendar year before I could apply for the dividend.

Finally in my third year up here, I got my first check, and it seemed the vultures had been circling the entire time I was waiting to qualify.

Way back when, before I moved up, I thought I could use the check to pay a few extra house payments each year.

As the incredibly shrinking check got ever smaller, I thought it would be nice to just add a little to my savings, just in case the day came when I really needed the money.

The locals, however, seem bent on spending my check for me.

Please don't. I truly appreciate what Jay Hammond and others did to assure future Alaskans all benefit from the state's bountiful resources as they are extracted by Big Oil.

I can spend my dividend just fine, thank you.

Phil Hermanek is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.



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