JUNEAU For video store clerk Dave Marshall, Alaska's annual payout to its residents means getting a chance to escape the dark, cold winter of the far north. This year, he's thinking Hawaii.
''Somewhere nice and warm,'' said the 18-year-old Juneau resident. ''You've got to leave once in a while.''
No such splurge for Robert Rodman, owner of a downtown Juneau liquor store. Not a dime of the dividend will cross his palm. His wife, Okie, squirrels the cash into their kids' education fund. They need every penny: One daughter is in graduate school, the other starts college next year.
''Sad, but true. No play money. I don't even see it,'' he said.
This year, Marshall, Rodman and every other eligible man, woman and child will receive $845.76 just for living in Alaska, officials announced Tuesday night. The dividends come from the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund, the state's rainy day savings account of its oil wealth. Some 603,080 people this year will get checks.
The $845.76 is the lowest dividend payout since 1989 and marks the fifth straight year the value has dropped. Last year, it was $919.84. Just five years ago, it was a record $1,963.86. That would have made for a sizable bank deposit for Rodman's daughters and a plush tropical vacation for Marshall. This year's dividend is well less than half that, and Marshall is reconciled to dipping into his savings for his Hawaiian escape.
The shrinking dividend is in contrast to this year's record crude oil prices and a permanent fund worth an all-time high $31.5 billion. The keepers of the permanent fund say a good year in the markets doesn't necessarily translate into big dividend checks.
The dividends are calculated on a five-year average of the permanent fund's income from stocks, bonds, real estate and other investments. Stock market losses in 2002 and 2003 drove the value down this year, according to the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. And while high oil prices bulk up the permanent fund's principal, that money must be invested and is not figured into dividends.
But, said fund spokeswoman Laura Achee, investment forecasters say the dividends have bottomed out. The payouts are forecast to rise the next 10 years.
The permanent fund was created by voters in 1976 and is a legacy of former Gov. Jay Hammond, a major advocate of the fund who died earlier this year. The first dividend in 1982 was $1,000, and over the years has paid out $13.6 billion to Alaskans.
Direct deposit of dividends is scheduled for Oct. 12 for about 455,000 Alaskans. Checks by mail for the others will be sent starting Oct. 26, according to the state Department of Revenue.
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