Lawmakers propose $1,300 'energy relief check' for Alaskans

State House lawmakers have proposed paying Alaskans almost $1,300 as an “energy relief check” on top of the annual Permanent Fund dividend.

As presented by the House Finance Committee on Friday, the two payments would total about $2,500 this year for every eligible Alaskan.

The energy relief payment would use some of the state’s unexpectedly high oil revenues to help residents hit by rising fuel prices, record inflation and ongoing financial recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers in the House majority said in a written statement on March 2.

“Between the negative economic effects of COVID and escalating energy costs, our residents are suffering,” said Speaker Louise Stutes, of Kodiak, in a statement. “With the influx of new revenue, we are in a position to provide an energy relief check to Alaskans and that is exactly what the House coalition intends to do.”

Alaska revenue officials are expecting hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue this year. The House majority coalition announcement last week came as crude oil prices surged past $100 a barrel amid the ongoing Russian assault on Ukraine, which could further enrich state coffers.

Global prices neared $120 a barrel on Monday as the situation in Ukraine deteriorated and oil buyers feared supply shortages of crude.

The one-time relief payment would cost the state $875.1 million, according to Joe Plesha, communications director for the House majority.

The measure still requires House action and Senate concurrence before it can go to the governor for signature into law. The House Finance Committee unveiled its budget plan on Friday, with further committee consideration and possible amendments before the appropriations bill could move to the full House for a vote.

House Finance Committee Co-chair Neal Foster, of Nome, said rising oil prices have a double effect in Alaska.

“It’s two things. It’s the coffers — we’re going to get more money into the state — and people are going to feel that at the pump. So as we get more money and people are feeling the squeeze, we need to try to provide some relief for Alaskans,” Foster said.

This is not the first time lawmakers have proposed payments to Alaskans on top of the Permanent Fund dividend. In 2008, the Legislature, pushed by then-Gov. Sarah Palin, approved $1,200 “resource rebate” checks for Alaska residents as a way for the state to share some of its multibillion-dollar oil revenue surplus.

Foster said lawmakers were influenced by the 2008 program in coming up with the current plan. Like then, the payments would go to all Alaskans eligible for the Permanent Fund dividend. Eligibility would be based on the 2022 dividend and payments could come in a single lump sum later this year, Foster added.

The 2021 dividend to Alaska residents was $1,114.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed in December using some of the surplus revenue to give out a $1,250 spring dividend on top of his proposal for a 2022 Permanent Fund dividend of $2,564. Lawmakers have taken no steps in support of the governor’s plan for a special spring payment.

In a Twitter post, Dunleavy said the House coalition’s announcement is “better late than never.”

“For months now, I have been pointing out that rising oil prices are benefitting government finances but are hurting Alaskans,” Dunleavy wrote.

Independent governor candidate Bill Walker was quick to endorse the energy relief payment.

“Alaskans are getting hammered by high energy costs. Oil prices are higher than they’ve been in over a decade. The calculation is easy: get help out the door,” Walker said in a statement.

Democratic governor candidate Les Gara endorsed the idea later in the day on social media, saying that “the House was right to announce an energy relief check.”

 

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