Not yet your money

There’s a big thing going down in Alaska right now: our governor, Mike Dunleavy, who ran on a platform based on giving every Alaskan resident a $3000 Permanent Fund Dividend check this year and large checks in the years to follow, vetoed many of the aspects of the Alaska Legislature plan recently presented to him. Dunleavy’s vetoes would affect many areas of Alaskan’s lives, but most pertinent to myself and to many of those around me are the enormous potential cuts to the University of Alaska system. His proposed $130 million cut to the money Alaska gives to the UA system would be absolutely devastating for the institution, both immediately and far into the future.

Last night, Jason and I were talking about the PFD. The PFD was set up to give Alaskans a share of that year’s oil revenues (the oil that flows down from the North Slope to Valdez via the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, where it is then exported for refining). I see it as a gift. I do not see it as a right. When you apply for your PFD in the spring, there is no guarantee that you will receive a certain amount of money. Basically, in my opinion, if the Alaska state budget is healthy, and there is a little left over for my PFD, then I gratefully accept it. But slashing at state programs, which are already hurting due to low oil prices, to guarantee a set amount makes no sense to me. What is a $3000 check if our universities are reduced to a fraction of their current power (or, more specifically, what is a $3000 check to a recently-fired, tenured professor)? What is a $3000 check if low-income housing and support programs are eliminated? What is a $3000 check if you’re a senior citizen and your benefits are taken away?

When we were talking last night, I started to dream. What if, when you applied for your PFD, there were choices for levels of payment? Imagine three options: $1000, $2000, and $3000. Next to each option was a graphic and a quick descriptor of the effects of choosing that level of PFD. Also next to each option was a number showing how many Alaskans had chosen that option. Would people give up the higher option? How loudly does a gift of money speak to you?

It was a good, tough conversation we had. It must have carried into my dreams, because as soon as I woke up this morning I thought about what Jason had said: the PDF is not “your” money when you apply for it. It’s an application for receiving what the Alaskan legislature and governor decide the amount will be. It doesn’t yet exist. And I started thinking…in that way that something becomes real to you even though you’ve known it rationally all along…that life is not guaranteed to us. Just because I will graduate soon, just because I have plans to move to Arizona, just because I have dreams and hopes, nothing is certain. Nothing is certain except right now. And isn’t that amazing? Perhaps terrifying? This is it.

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