Alaskans were Pretty, Friggin’, Darn angry on Friday, my friends. “Like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli,” as George Costanza once observed.
It was an emotion that could not be contained. It exploded all over social media.
One needed only type the acronym PFD in Facebook search to find anger tinged with sadness, frustration, political posturing and, yes, even humor.
“Half my pfd was stolen,” Travis Mathes posted on “Stolen in Alaska,” a page normally devoted to helping people recover ripped-off cars, bikes, TV sets, tools, and other goods.
Mathes wasn’t referencing a personal flotation vest either. He was talking Permanent Fund Dividend, the check Alaskans get each year as their share of the income earnings on the wealth created by royalties on the state’s oil.
Normally, each Alaskan gets an equal share of about half of the earnings. This year they got about half of that share as Gov. Bill Walker seized the other half to help cover the state’s staggering budget shortfall of better than $3.5 billion.
Walker’s action was already the subject of a lawsuit. Now it’s the focus of social protest.
Old timers Bella Hammond, the wife of the late Republican Gov. Jay Hammond, and former Sen. Vic Fisher, an old-school Democrat and delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention, were dragged out of the woodwork to protest the seizure of about half of a PFD that should have been around $2,050.
“I sure hope that the people will stand up and protect their birthright and that of their children,” Fischer said as he looked into a videocamera and Hammond warmly hugged him. “
“Me too,” she added.
Their’s was a polite appeal to write the governor or your state senator or representative. Others were less polite and, of course, the media got dragged into the circus.
“Mr. Walker is lying and he is stealing,” an angry Kenneth Wells posted. “Don’t let the media and the politicians paint the issue as we, the victims of the theft, being greedy deadbeats while painting Walker and his gang as noble heroes.”
Though it’s a given those protesting Walker’s action want the money, there didn’t appear much blowback against “greedy” protesters on Facebook or in the media. The tide clearly seemed to be flowing the other way.
Alaskans Against Gov. Walker’s PFD Theft was organizing a protest ambush at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where Walker is set to appear Oct. 1. He was Friday in Asia trying to make a deal to sell Alaska natural gas by telling investors that Alaskans can’t use the gas at home because it’s too expensive.
“So in order for us to use our gas throughout Alaska, we need an export piece to it. We need a large market” to subsidize in-state gas, he told the CCW World LNG & Gas Series in Singapore, where he offered assurances that with big oil companies out of the way an Alaska gas pipeline will now move forward.
“The crashing and burning part, it’s all how you view it,” he said. “I see those flames as the beginning of the launching of finally, of getting Alaska’s gas project across the finish line. Because we have tried absolutely everything else except the state of Alaska standing up and acting like a sovereign as other countries have around the world and made sure that their projects get to market, and I’m very pleased about that. But I’m also pleased about the ongoing relationship we have had, that we now have, and continue to have with our soon to be former partners as of the end of this year.”
Unfortunately for the Alaska gas line, the state of Alaska is not a sovereign or another country, and because of that is subject to the laws of the United States of America, which has not been shy about using those laws to reign in Alaska even more than other states.
The federal government now has authority over fishery management in Alaska rivers, an authority it lacks in the 49 other states. It for decades used its sovereign power to dictate Alaska oil could only be shipped the Lower 48. It still oversees permitting of any Alaska gas line and LNG plant. And Walker’s hopes of a creating a successful, state-owned gas-line company hinge largely on his convincing the Internal Revenue Service the Alaska line should be exempted from federal taxes, something the state’s own consulting attorney said is unlikely to happen.
A sovereign does not face these problems, which is one of the reasons Norway has been more successful than Alaska in maximizing government returns on its oil and gas discoveries.
Walker’s trying to wrangle a pipeline that has problems a sovereign wouldn’t face is a problem.
But it would appear he has an even bigger problem brewing on the home front where it Friday seemed that for every Alaskans who recognized something needed to be done to backfill a bigger than $3.5 billion hole in the state budget there were two people madder than hell at giving up their PFD.
The Permanent Fund was established by an amendment to the Alaska Constitution in 1976. It required the state to bank a quarter of its new-found oil wealth. Four years later the Alaska Legislature created the Permanent Fund Dividend to provide Alaskans with an annual share of that wealth.
Jay Hammond, one of the biggest proponents of the dividend, envisioned the number of shares held by each Alaskan growing year by year as a reward for longevity in the nation’s coldest, darkest, wildest, and then least-populated state, but the federal courts scotched that idea.
The end result, a legal compromise, called for splitting half the annual earnings equally among all those who could show they’d spent the previous year in the north. Since the first $1,000 dividend was handed out in 1982, the PFD has become a cherished tradition.
Alaskans Against Gov. Walker’s Permanent Fund Theft was growing rapidly on Friday. It started the day with fewer than 10,000 members and had more than 11,000 by supper time.
There was also a recall petition drive underway.
“THE LINES ARE FORMING IN THE VALLEY TO SIGN THE APPLICATION FOR A RECALL PETITION AGAINST GOV. WALKER, WHO STOLE $1,000 OF YOUR PFD AND $666 MILLION OF ALASKANS’ PFDs, COLLECTIVELY,” Mike Widney posted.
For Walker, it was probably a good time to be in Singapore.