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GREEN LIGHT – Karen Lucas works in her Katlian Street garden this afternoon. Warm sunny weather this spring has been a boon for local gardeners. The Farmers' Almanac is predicting this summer will be warmer than normal, with the hottest period in early July. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Legislators Pressured On Dividend Amount

By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press
    JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska legislators face mounting pressure to decide the annual dividend paid to residents from Alaska’s oil-wealth fund, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy threatening additional special sessions for anything but a full payout.
    The amount expected to be paid this fall is unresolved as lawmakers grapple with how the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program should look going forward.
    To Dunleavy, it’s simple: follow a longstanding calculation in law, which would equate to checks of around $3,000 each, and send to a vote of the people proposed changes to the dividend.
    He told reporters today he’s determined to get a full dividend this year, even if that means repeated special sessions. He spoke in his hometown of Wasilla, outside a middle school, his recommended venue for a July special session.
    A governor can call a special session, but legislators don’t have to act on any of the agenda items. Dunleavy’s predecessor, Gov. Bill Walker, found that out when he repeatedly asked lawmakers to consider taxes to help address the state’s budget deficit.
    Legislators also can call themselves into a special session. In 2015, they snubbed Walker’s call to meet in Juneau by holding their own special session in Anchorage.
    Some legislators hope a legislative working group can provide a path forward on dividends. Others are skeptical.
    House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said he thinks the group’s eventual recommendations will be seriously considered. The Dillingham independent said many legislators believe that if they want to put a longer-term solution, they have to deal with it this year.
    “To do it next year, in an election year, I think would be virtually impossible,” he said.
    Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche said a durable solution “is unlikely to be delivered without a serious formal consideration on how the people of Alaska feel about a change.” Micciche also noted Dunleavy can veto bills he doesn’t like. Lawmakers have the option of overriding a veto if they can muster sufficient votes.
    During a just-ended special session, the Senate by one vote failed to pass a full dividend, with a prominent supporter absent. It later failed to revive the bill for another vote.
    The Senate included a full payout in its version of the operating budget. Senate President Cathy Giessel has said members of her GOP-led majority have expressed willingness to support a full dividend this year if it’s coupled with changes going forward.
    The House soundly rejected a full payout. But minority Republicans, who pushed for one as part of debate on a state infrastructure budget, refused to offer the necessary support for key funding provisions for that budget, leaving that, too, unresolved.
    Dunleavy said if the dividend is resolved, he thinks that budget can come together quickly.
    Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, said Dunleavy needs to work with legislators.
    “There’s lots of compromises that could be out there. But they’re compromises, and if everybody stays hardened in their positions, we’ll never get to that,” he said.
    Wielechowski has argued the debate isn’t complete without looking at things such as oil-tax changes. Dunleavy sees room to reduce the operating budget, which he told reporters recently needs to be smaller.
    The dividend for years was paid without a hitch, using a formula based on an average of fund income over five years. In 2012, residents received $878. In 2015, they got $2,072.
    In 2016, Walker reduced the amount available for the checks, an action upheld by the state Supreme Court after Wielechowski and others sued.
    The court’s decision said the dividend absent a constitutional amendment must compete for funding like other state programs. Checks the last two years have been capped at $1,100 and $1,600.
    Some legislators, frustrated by what they see as arbitrarily picking check sizes, argue the existing calculation should be followed. The earnings reserve was valued at $19 billion at the end of April.
    But some worry the Legislature, which spent billions in savings as it struggled to address the deficit, will use the earnings reserve as a piggy bank. Last year, lawmakers began using fund earnings, long used to pay dividends, to help cover government costs. A law passed last year seeks to limit withdrawals from earnings for dividends and government. Whether lawmakers adhere to that limit remains unclear.
    “Hopefully the public’s seeing the urgency of the need to revisit the formula, because there’s only so much cash,” said Senate Finance Committee Co-chair Sen. Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican. He said he’s concerned that Alaskans have been “led to believe that we can just spend out of the earnings reserve and not worry about it.”
   

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 5-28-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 10:55 a.m. Thursday.

New cases as of Wednesday: 13

Total statewide – 425

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 46, and the cumulative number of deaths is 10.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

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Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

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Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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