By Mark Begich
For The Cordova Times
As Alaskans receive their reduced PFD checks this week, it is a reminder of the uncertainty that continues to ripple through the Alaska economy due to our lack of a long-term fiscal plan.
I am the only candidate running for governor who wants to put the PFD and funding for our schools into the state constitution – and take it out of the hands of politicians.
The PFD is not only a critical source of income for so many Alaska families, but also a reflection of our shared values and our common investment in our state’s resources.
The PFD pulls 25,000 Alaskans out of poverty every year, reducing the statewide poverty rate by nearly a third. At the same time, economists realize that cutting the dividend, in many ways the economic engine of our state – particularly for small businesses – was one of the most regressive approaches to closing the budget deficit.
How can we ask a 5-year-old in Bethel to shoulder the same financial burden as a CEO in Anchorage when it comes to fixing our budget challenges?
And for those who wonder if permanently protecting the PFD can be a part of a sound, fiscal
plan for the future, the answer is absolutely. In fact, I believe that the process of permanently
protecting the PFD should also include guaranteed funding for pre-K-12 education because you cannot simply cut your way to a stronger, more secure economy. If you want to grow the economy, you must make smart investments.
As part of my plan to permanently protect the PFD, I would:
- Constitutionally protect a sustainable PFD that this year would be estimated at around
- $2,000 a year.
- Constitutionally guarantee stable, long-term education funding that this year could
- have freed up as much as $1.3 billion in general funds.
- Inflation-proof the Permanent Fund to protect its value moving forward.
To be clear, this is only about using annual earnings on the fund. The actual fund itself would remain intact and untouched – unlike many of the plans being thrown about today.
There is no better equalizer in any community than access to a quality education. Access to quality education provides the foundation for a strong economy and ensures a vibrant, homegrown workforce. We have the ability to start our kids on the right foot, prepare them for the future, and create a stronger economy.
The choice in this election is clear. Senator Dunleavy voted against the PFD five times while also voting to cut education and job training. He has even said he supports closing rural schools and sending students to boarding school. Meanwhile, under Governor Walker’s leadership, the state spent 80 percent of our savings – $14 billion gone and we still don’t have a long-term fiscal plan.
I don’t believe it is courageous to balance the budget on the backs of Alaska’s working families. I was honored to recently receive the endorsement of former First Lady Bella Hammond, who said, “Mark Begich is just the kind of leader Alaska needs today and that is why he has my full support to be Alaska’s next governor. When I look at Mark, I see some of the values that made Jay such a strong leader – like putting people over politics. Jay understood what governing in pivotal moments was all about and that is why we have the Permanent Fund today. Mark Begich is the only candidate with a realistic, responsible plan that will make sure Jay’s legacy lives on – and that’s good for all Alaskans.”
I support a constitutional amendment to permanently protect the PFD because I believe Gov. Jay Hammond was right when he explained, “Of one thing I’m sure … as go dividends, so goes the Permanent Fund Cap, reduce, or eliminate the PFD and the fund will follow suit.”
I know we can do better. Let’s come together and build a better future for all Alaskans.