Alaska could end to oil checks paid to residents

Mark Thiessen
Associated Press

Anchorage, Alaska — As Alaska faces a multibillion dollar budget deficit, the oil fund wealth checks distributed yearly to nearly every Alaskan could be on the chopping block.

It could mean the first time in more than 30 years that most Alaskans won’t get a check from the government just for living in the state.

“We’ll look at every item individually and decide between now and July 1 what items get vetoed and what does not,” Gov. Bill Walker, who announces budget vetoes Wednesday morning, told reporters earlier this month when asked if he would veto all or part of the $1.4 billion oil check fund appropriation sent to him in the budget by lawmakers.

“At this point, all options are on the table,” the Juneau Empire reported Walker saying June 23.

Alaska state government relies mostly on revenue from oil production to stay solvent. But declining production and a precipitous drop in oil prices have plagued state government, leaving Alaska with a deficit of more than $3 billion for the next budget year.

Walker has proposed several measures to help bridge the gap, including tapping into the oil wealth fund.

Last year, nearly every Alaskan received a record amount, $2,072, in the oil fund check. The fund has paid a dividend yearly since 1982.

Walker’s talk about ending the checks — and implementing a state income tax for the first time in decades — could be political suicide, but Walker, a first term independent, doesn’t face re-election this year.

It could also be political posturing. Walker wants to cap this year’s payment at $1,000, among other changes, and has called lawmakers back into session beginning July 11 to take up his proposals.

If he vetoes the $1.4 billion oil check appropriation or a portion of it, it could leave lawmakers in an awkward position of either approving Walker’s proposal to cap the checks at $1,000 or risk having no check at all, leaving them to face either an angry or angrier electorate during the fall elections.