- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials in the last week:

Oct. 6, 2017

Ketchikan Daily News: Still paying dividends

On Thursday, the State of Alaska began distributing a total of $672 million to approximately 640,000 qualified Alaska residents, each of whom will be receiving $1,100.

This is the 36th time that Alaskans have received dividend payments from the Alaska Permanent Fund program, according to the Alaska Department of Revenue.

The department reports that Alaskans now have received a total of more than $25 billion since the first dividend checks were distributed in 1982.

By any measure, $25 billion is a significant sum, and a monumental tribute to the Alaskans who worked to create the Alaska Permanent Fund in the mid 1970s as a way to save some of the wealth generated by oil production in the state for future generations of Alaskans.

Over time, the permanent fund itself has grown from the original $734,000 to more than $55 billion through oil revenues and other investment strategies, all the while since 1982 paying to Alaskans annual dividends that have ranged from a low of $331 in 1984 to a high of $2,072 in 2015, according to the Alaska Permanent Fund Division.

The impact of the dividend program on individual Alaskans has been, in a word, tremendous.

It’s safe to say a significant percentage of dividend money goes to the basics. It’s put food on tables, clothes on backs and heating oil in tanks. It’s paid for rent, hospital bills and car repairs. It’s allowed Alaskans to obtain job training and earn college degrees.

Some of it goes into saving and investment accounts, helping Alaskans prepare for their financial futures. Some of it goes toward charity.

And, of course, a lot of it is spent on vacations, toys and other items that can be considered non-essential or essential - depending on your point of view.

But that’s one of the glories of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. If you’re an Alaskan qualified to receive a dividend check, that money is yours to spend, save or donate however you wish.

That’s also a key factor in why the permanent fund program has stayed intact over the years. Alaskans appreciate the dividends that it produces, and generally aren’t excited about attempts to use permanent fund revenues for other purposes, such as paying for state government.

Indeed, the 2016 and 2017 dividends are about half of what they would have been had the governor not diverted a portion to help address the state’s current budget deficit woes.

While we expect the Alaska Permanent Fund to be a subject of substantial debate during the upcoming special session of the Alaska Legislature, this week is about the arrival of direct-deposited dividend checks in bank accounts throughout the state (The division also started mailing physical checks on Thursday).

May we use our individual dividends to their best purpose this year, and may we all say a word of thanks to the wise folks who had the foresight to establish the Alaska Permanent Fund.

___

Oct. 8, 2017

Peninsula Clarion: Editorial: Dividend time loses some of its luster

Alaska Permanent Fund dividends hit bank accounts this week, but the money has arrived with a bit less fanfare than in years past.

Perhaps there’s less hype because we already knew what we were going to get - the Legislature set this year’s payout at $1,100 per person, making September’s big reveal - which had taken on a game show atmosphere - moot.

Perhaps there’s a little less excitement because, with the state’s economic slowdown, people are spending more of their dividend check on essentials - food, clothes, utility bills, housing - rather than luxuries like a new TV or the latest gaming system.

Or perhaps there’s a somber mood because the $1,100 is about half of what the dividend might have been - had lawmakers not been also trying to deal with a multi-billion dollar deficit, which is forcing them to explore the possibility of using Permanent Fund earnings to pay for state government. But as dividend checks are being deposited, many Alaskans are also feeling the effects of cuts to education, transportation, public safety and other state agencies.

Indeed, if you haven’t been doing so already, Alaskans should be asking just what, philosophically, the purpose of the Permanent Fund is, because the answer to that question is going to shape state policy for years to come.

The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene Oct. 23, with two items on the agenda - a bill to address issues created by recent criminal justice reform, and Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal for a payroll tax.

However, just about every member of the Legislature knows there is much heavier lifting to do on the budget deficit, and it will involve the use of Permanent Fund earnings in some form.

The topic has generated passionate responses, including a sharp debate on the topic at a town hall meeting with the area’s legislative contingent in Soldotna Wednesday.

At that meeting, Sen. Peter Micciche, a Soldotna Republican, said his office will be looking into another town hall meeting on a percent of market value plan, under which structured draws would be taken on Permanent Fund earnings to pay for government. The state Senate has passed similar plans in recent legislative sessions, but so far, members of the House have been reluctant to follow suit, this past year insisting that such a plan also include a broad-based tax.

At the town hall meeting, Sen. Micciche said the Senate Majority had requested work sessions this fall to hash out some of the differences on budget measures heading in to the start of the next regular session in January. Given the tack Gov. Walker has taken with his payroll tax proposal - which he has tied to the amount of the Permanent Fund dividend - we’re disappointed those work sessions are not likely to take place.

But that brings us back to the question we all should be not just asking, but at this point, answering, about the purpose of the Permanent Fund. Because as long as paying out dividends remains the most important function of the Permanent Fund, Alaska will remain in its fiscal crisis.

___

Oct. 11, 2017

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Delaying the inevitable on REAL ID in Alaska

There will be no escaping the federal REAL ID law if you want to get on to a military installation or travel by means whose access is controlled by the federal Transportation Security Administration.

But Alaskans do, once again, have a little more time to get things in order with the federal security law. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that it has given the state an additional compliance grace period through Jan. 22 of next year.

The grace period is a short-term stay while the department considers the state’s request for a full waiver until late 2020, a pivotal year by which Alaskans will have to have a form of REAL ID-compliant identification in order to travel within the country on modes of transportation monitored by the TSA.

The REAL ID Act, approved in 2005, doesn’t actually require states to do anything, by the way. It’s actually a law that applies only to federal agencies, instructing them about the circumstances in which they can accept state driver’s licenses and other forms of state-issued identification. Of course, a state’s residents would be stuck if their state doesn’t provide them with the ability to have a form of identification that comports with the instruction to federal agencies.

Alaska, though, in 2008 passed a law prohibiting the state from spending any funds to comply with the federal law. That would have eventually left residents scrambling to find some other form of identification acceptable to federal agencies. It would have been especially problematic for the occasional traveler or for someone who needs to travel on extremely short notice.

Alaska came up with a nifty, slightly awkward way to meet its residents’ needs.

The Legislature earlier this year approved, and Gov. Bill Walker signed, a bill that requires the state Division of Motor Vehicles to give residents a choice of having a driver’s license or identification card that meets the REAL ID act requirements or one that doesn’t.

Alaskans will have to make a decision that, for some individuals, will be uncomfortable. That’s because legitimate concerns exist about providing too much personal information to the government. There are also concerns about attacks on the computer systems that would house that personal information. How many stories about computer hacks of personal information have been in the news in the past year? Several.

So the choice will be whether to obtain a state driver’s license or ID card that meets federal requirements or to get a non-compliant one and either get some other form of acceptable ID or not travel anywhere you would encounter a TSA agent.

The state hopes to obtain a full waiver of the requirements through October 2020, when all Alaskans will need a compliant state-issued card or other acceptable federal identification for domestic travel in which TSA is involved. The Division of Motor Vehicles will begin issuing REAL ID cards in January 2019.

The REAL ID Act can be confusing and is, to some degree, a controversial law. But understanding how it works and what it means to you is important. You can find out about the REAL ID Act online at https://www.dhs.gov/real-id-public-faqs .


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