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ALASKA: Attack on Alaska’s Basic Income averted for now but fiscal pressure on its future increases

Alaska’s small Basic Income, “the Permanent Fund Dividend” (PFD), has recently come under greater political pressure than — perhaps — ever before.

The PFD is a yearly dividend paid out of an investment portfolio, “the Alaska Permanent Fund” (APF), which is financed by accumulated savings from the state’s oil revenue. The fund has a principal of more than $50 billion, and it paid out a dividend of $1884 to each Alaskan in 2014. The dividend is fully funded by the APF. On its own it is financially sound. Barring a major catastrophe, as long as politicians leave the APF alone, it can continue to fund the dividend long after we are all dead.

Politicians will leave the APF alone, or so most Alaskans thought until recently. The PFD has been so popular that it was known as the “third rail of Alaskan politics,” meaning that any politician who touched it died. But political realities might be changing.

Since 1980 the Alaska state budget has been funded almost entirely by oil revenue. Now with both declining oil prices and declining oil production, the state faces a large budget shortfall. Lawmakers eventually agreed to close the deficit without tapping into the APF and PFD by cutting spending and taping into another state savings fund, but several lawmakers, including the state’s governor, Bill Walker, proposed tapping into APF earnings. The phrase “third rail of Alaskan politics” barely made the conversation.

Cuts to the PFD could be coming in the next few years. Discussing the future of the budget, Governor Walker said, “At this point I don’t see a scenario that doesn’t involve some of the earnings from the permanent fund.”

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 953 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.

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