Commentary by Clem Tillion
For The Cordova Times
My roots in Alaska go deep. I’ve had incredible opportunities here. At 93, my greatest hope is that my children and future Alaskans continue thriving here in a land of opportunity.
When I arrived in Alaska after WWII, I was glad to be alive. I had served over two years with a naval construction battalion on Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands. Malaria and other jungle diseases wracked my body. I was a wreck in some ways. But Alaska provided. Alaska healed me.
I met the love of my life here and raised a family in Halibut Cove. Alaska provided abundant fish and spectacular land and seascapes that made me whole. The people of Alaska were hard working, thrifty and committed to building a better future for everyone – my kind of people.
We worked following the war to build a bright and inclusive future. Statehood was the goal. Control of our destiny was the value we cherished. We achieved statehood by working together, across party lines, over geographical boundaries and in spite of personal beliefs. It had to be done and it was.
The great promise of statehood ensured Alaskans would obtain the land grants and control of our inshore fisheries we needed to thrive. We selected wisely, including the incomparable lands along the Sagavanirktok River near Prudhoe Bay that yielded a stupendous amount of oil revenue.
When the oil revenue started rolling into our state coffers, Alaska’s great promise appeared to have been fulfilled. But the initial bonanza of oil revenues was spent like a sailor hitting port after a long voyage. Some of us worried about spending every cent of our non-renewable oil revenue without saving for the future.
Visionary legislators like Oral Freeman and Hugh Malone led the call to save a slice of our oil revenue. They were assisted by my pool playing buddy, Governor Jay Hammond, who grew up poor in upstate New York and knew the value of savings.
Working together with Alaskans from across the state, we established the Permanent Fund. We only saved only 25 percent of the oil revenues. The rest was available and spent by the politicians. Some of it even benefited the people.
Jay Hammond convinced me and many other Alaskans the only way to fully protect our Permanent Fund was to make sure each and every Alaskan had a stake in the fund. Hammond believed as long as every Alaskan obtained an uncapped dividend each year, the voters would protect the Permanent forever.
Which brings me to the point I want every Alaskan to consider. The Permanent Fund, now at $65 billion, has benefited all Alaskans for decades. The current law requiring the Permanent Fund Corporation to inflation proof the fund and then pay the PFD according to a legal formula, has been a boon for every Alaskan and the private sector.
Alaskans are treated equally according to this distribution law. Whether you live in Bethel or Ketchikan, Anchorage or Fairbanks, the dividend is your legal right. And why not? The dividend came from our Permanent Fund savings account – a fund established in our constitution using the oil wealth owned in common by all Alaskans.
Politicians and special interests have tried to hijack your dividend since it was established. For the first time in history they’ve succeeded. In the last three years our politicians failed to address revenue shortfalls in a responsible way. Instead, they stole thousands of dollars from you by shorting your dividend, so they can spend your money on projects and activities they believe are more important than your interests.
As a group, our elected officials are addicted to spending. They’ve spent down most of the state’s savings account. Now they are ignoring the law and grabbing your PFD. Eventually they’ll go after the Permanent Fund if we let them.
All of us who helped establish the Permanent Fund did so to pass along a little of the oil wealth to future generations. The PFD isn’t a welfare program or a rainy-day account for government. The PFD was established so every Alaskan would share equally in the Permanent Fund earnings and to provide a firewall between the grasping hands of politicians and special interests trying to rip off our communal savings.
I came back from the war in the Pacific sure in the knowledge that Alaska was a great place to live and full of opportunity. The sea and the land provided. Life was good because we all worked hard, built a better future, and saved a portion of the bounty we inherited.
Letting the politicians raid our savings and cut Alaskans’ PFD is political robbery. Anything short of full constitutional protection of the PFD is unjust and robs every Alaskan of their equal share of our savings.
We must defend our Permanent Fund. To do that, the original PFD law must be protected in our Alaska Constitution.
Clem Tillion is a former nine-term legislator and retired commercial fisherman residing in Halibut Cove near Homer. He is the president of the Permanent Fund Defenders (www.pfdak.com) and helped design the Permanent Fund with Gov. Jay Hammond and others.