If things continue on their current trajectory, Alaskans will lose their voice on a very significant issue 23 days from now.
The Alaska Constitution spells out that the people shall have the right to a public vote to reject new laws passed by the legislature through the referendum process (Art. XI, Sec. 5).
They have been denied that right for the last three years.
The amount of the PFD is enshrined in state law (Alaska Statute 43.23.025). The legislature could change that law at any time. They haven't. Instead, both the governor and the legislature decided to simply ignore the law. And because the legislature and the governor never changed the law, the people have been denied the right to a referendum vote on the changes.
The Alaska State House and the State Senate have each passed a version of Senate Bill 26 that permanently rewrites the way that the PFD is calculated. In one version, the government take from fund earnings is 75%, leaving 25% for PFD's each year. In the second version, the government's take is only 67%, leaving 33% for PFD's each year.
Both versions received extensive public criticism last year. It became very clear that if either version were to become law a referendum would be initiated immediately. So instead of being reconciled and passed into law, both versions have been sitting on the shelf now for over a year. Waiting.
The legislature has already exceeded the 90-day session, which required setting aside yet another state law (AS 24.05.150(b)). The governor has said he is hopeful that the session will wrap-up before 120 days. But the 120th day is not the day that matters.
According to the constitution, if the legislature is still in session 23 days from now, on May 10th, the people will automatically lose their constitutional right to reject acts of the legislature for the next two and a half years. If that happens, and the legislature passes SB26, the people won't get to exercise their right to a referendum until August of 2020!
And while such an action would be inexcusable, you won't find a single judge who will lift a finger to stop it. If you doubt my conclusion on this, the Legislature released two reports today confirming the details:
Juneau has listened to the Alaskan public, and to date has largely decided to ignore what it has heard.
What happens over the next 23 days will decide a great deal for the future of our state.
If there was ever an important time to reach out to your legislators, surely now is that time. The legislature has now exceeded the 90 day session. If they continue on with business as usual like they did last year, legislators will still be in Juneau on May 10th, and the people will suffer greatly because of it.
And don't forget, if the people are denied the right to a referendum in 2018, legislators may not just be looking at a 2020 referendum, they may be looking at a public vote on a full-blown state constitutional convention.
You can only stretch things so far before they break.