Op-Ed; Opinion

Alaska’s Budget Deficit is Political Threat to its Basic Income

Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend is the closest thing to a Basic Income that exists in the world today. It gives every U.S. Citizen who fills out a form verifying Alaska residency a check for a share of the revenue from the Alaska Permanent Fund each year. The fund and dividend—on their own—are on solid financial footing. Left alone, they can continue as long as there is a State of Alaska. But the same can’t be said for the rest of Alaska’s budget. Most of it is financed by revenue from the state’s oil exports. Oil reserves are finite, and therefore, the revenue they provide temporary; and oil exports have been gradually dropping for years. The world oil market is volatile, and prices are down right now leaving the state with a substantial budget deficit, in the order of $3.9-4.0 billion this year and yet.

Alaska Dispatch News

Alaska Dispatch News

The state has no income or sales tax, making those the obvious sources of revenue for, but Alaskans are notoriously skeptical of personal taxes. The state has budget reserves (also funded out of oil revenue), but at current deficit rates, it could spend through those in a matter of three to five years. If oil prices don’t bounce back or if oil exports continue to decline, this strategy would merely put off the day of reckoning and put the state in a worse financial position when that day comes.

With all this issues, Alaska’s $54 billion Permanent Fund is a tempting target for legislators. The constitution protects the fund’s principal, but not it’s earnings. Almost all of the fund’s earnings have been dedicated to supporting the dividend since the dividend’s inception in 1982. The dividend has been protected by its enormous popularity, but with greater financial pressure on the state budget the political balance might change and the dividend—or its future growth—could be at risk.

Several proposals have been put forward, some involving the introduction of new taxes, some involving borrowing against the state’s funds, some involving slowing the growth of the fund and dividend, and some involve lower dividends at present without necessarily slowing the rate of increase of the fund.

To read some of these proposals, go to:

Scott Goldsmith. “Alaskans, we better wise up before we burn through our savings.” Alaska Dispatch News, April 9, 2015.

Alex DeMarban, “Permanent Fund can lower deficit while checks keep coming, economist says.Alaska Dispatch News, April 23, 2015.

Alice Rogoff, “Alaska need not suffer; let’s leverage our wealth to thrive.” Alaska Dispatch News, April 11, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, “Editorial: Time to talk new revenue: Legislature’s focus on cuts has avoided other half of funding equation.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sunday, April 12, 2015.

Alaska Business Monthly, New Bill Creates Up to $2 Billion in State Revenue While Protecting Future Permanent Fund Dividends.” Alaska Business Monthly, April 20, 2015

Picture CC Travis

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 958 articles.

Karl Widerquist is an Associate Professor of political philosophy at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University, specializing in distributive justice—the ethics of who has what. Much of his work involves Universal Basic Income (UBI). He is a co-founder of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG). He served as co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) for 7 years, and now serves as vice-chair. He was the Editor of the USBIG NewsFlash for 15 years and of the BIEN NewsFlash for 4 years. He is a cofounder of BIEN’s news website, Basic Income News, the main source of just-the-facts reporting on UBI worldwide. He is a cofounder and editor of the journal Basic Income Studies, the only academic journal devoted to research on UBI. Widerquist has published several books and many articles on UBI both in academic journals and in the popular media. He has appeared on or been quoted by many major media outlets, such as NPR’s On Point, NPR’s Marketplace, PRI’s the World, CNBC, Al-Jazeera, 538, Vice, Dissent, the New York Times, Forbes, the Financial Times, and the Atlantic Monthly, which called him “a leader of the worldwide basic income movement.” Widerquist holds two doctorates—one in Political Theory form Oxford University (2006) and one in Economics from the City University of New York (1996). He has published seven books, including Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press 2017, coauthored by Grant S. McCall) and Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No (Palgrave Macmillan 2013). He has published more than a twenty scholarly articles and book chapters. Most Karl Widerquist’s writing is available on his “Selected Works” website (works.bepress.com/widerquist/). More information about him is available on his BIEN profile and on Wikipedia. He writes the blog "the Indepentarian" for Basic Income News.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

3 comments

  • Francisco G Nobrega

    The volatility of financial markets and the single (variable) payment once a year are characteristics of the Alaska system that don’t qualify as a basic income for the unemployed. They need monthly cash transfers, constant and adjusted for inflation.
    No wonder this alternative hasn’t been replicated anywhere.

  • Clem Tillion

    I an old man are one of those who started the Alaska Dividend and write comments for local papers on the subject. Are you interested in one of my comments? If so do you have a FAX or other mean’s of contact?
    Clem Tillion Halibut Cove Alaska

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