Offer not avaliable in Alaska

15 September 2008

With what I think many readers will agree is a barely believable level of Alaska buzz in the news these days (missing, unfortunately, some of the most important stories) I just thought I’d toss out a couple of observations and links to Alaska sources, not least of all to show some kind of sympathy to all the national beat reporters currently stuck in Wasilla.

If news about the Permanent Fund Dividend hasn’t gone national yet, it will soon (sorry, Brandee) as it was disbursed late last week. For those unfamiliar with this quaint custom, it refers to a check qualified residents of the state of Alaska get each year. Kind of a reverse income tax. Let me hasten to say that you shouldn’t pack your bags and your parka immediately. First of all, do the simple math that the more people who move there, the smaller the PFD gets. Also, you may not live in Alaska unless you can come to terms with the fact that, at any moment, you may be forced to wear bunny boots. Seriously.

At any rate, I’d just like to forestall any potential rumors that the current largest-ever PFD are a result of actions or policies of any member of the state government. While I’m going from memory and any readers with more information should feel free to correct me, the PFD is paid out from the State of Alaska Permanent Fund, which comes from the state royalties on money from oil that comes through the Pipeline. Enshrined in the state constitution, a percentage of the royalties go into the permanent fund, and the remainder provides the state budget. At least in previous years, this budget allowed Alaska to spend the most per capita on schools and libraries of any state in the US. I don’t know if that status has survived since I left seven or so years ago.

The Permanent Fund itself, then, has a board of directors and investments in many areas including real estate and stocks. It’s value, and that of the annual PFD checks (or really, direct deposits, since that’s what everybody gets), have an awful lot to do with the stock market and the price of a barrel of oil, as opposed to the actions of the state legislature or governor.

This year, however, there has been a one-time addition to the payout, advertised as the Alaska Resource Rebate. One reason (accurate, I think) given for both the bump in dollar amount and the early payout is that a major cost for Alaskans is heating oil for the winter. It may still be above freezing in Fairbanks, but winter is coming fast.

Bear in mind, my goal isn’t to dispute the need or the legitimacy of these kinds of things. I don’t live there any more, and while I know plenty who do, my perspective isn’t the same. I’d just like to preempt the idea that anyone can claim credit for this fabulous income, or that its existence could be extrapolated to the national stage.

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