Johnson: On the PFD, Let Them Vote

by Rep. DeLena Johnson (R-Palmer)

Throughout my career in public service, I’ve always been an advocate for education. But on Monday morning, I walked out of a meeting of a House Education Committee in protest, alongside two of my colleagues.

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The committee process in the legislature exists for several purposes, perhaps most importantly to accommodate public testimony and for members to debate issues that pertain to Alaskans. This is a longstanding process of Alaska’s legislature, and it mirrors processes in similar bodies across the United States.

Monday morning, the Chair of the House Education Subcommittee on Education & Early Development Subcommittee brought forward 34 amendments – all of them, proposed increases to government spending – without offering members the opportunity to debate or discuss them. When I challenged this effort, I was told that he was never given direction on how these hearings were to go. If that were the case, who was it that pre-determined the outcomes for these 34 spending increases?

This was the last straw for me.

The elephant in the room, which has been here for the entire legislative session and isn’t going away anytime soon, is the question: how does the House Finance Committee intend to pay for their desired growth of government? The House Majority wants to talk about adding back all the things that the Governor reduced in the budget, but none of them have offered a plan on how to pay for it.

Are they proposing an income tax? Are they raiding the PFD? There aren’t many other options on the table, yet they remain silent on their plans ahead of their impending state-funded government growth advocacy tour.

At this stage, I’ll be exploring a statewide advisory vote so that the people can, again, state their will when it comes to the Permanent Fund Dividend. The money belongs to the people, and the people should decide if the legislature should have the authority to take it away as a way of avoiding difficult conversations about right-sizing government.

Additionally, the Governor brought a constitutional amendment before the legislature that would put any proposed taxes before a vote of the people. The House Majority has also declined to let this move forward. It’s not hard to read the equation on the board.

I applaud Governor Dunleavy for his courage and commitment to building a sustainable future for Alaska. He has already accomplished something that no other elected official in this state has been able to do – he has inspired and stimulated a robust debate from Barrow to Ketchikan on government services and what Alaskans are willing to pay for in the budget. This is a necessary and rational starting point in the conversation to right-size government. Alaskans on all sides of the discussion are finally realizing the importance of speaking up for what they believe in.

Now, it’s time for the legislature to play their proper role: to listen to what the people want. If the legislature is ever to regain the trust of the Alaskan people, we need to decide, as a body, whether we care about the will of our constituents. In November, Alaskan voters elected a Republican legislative majority and a Republican governor who campaigned on protecting the PFD and reducing government spending. It seems pretty clear that the majority of Alaskans chose the Republican idea of limiting and reducing government – not maintaining or growing it.

When it comes the PFD, taxes, and government spending, the people should have the final word on what they are and are not willing to pay for. We can’t continue to circumvent them in the process.

DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, serves the 11th District as a member of the Alaska House of Representatives in the 31st Legislature.