October and November find qualifying Alaskans $900 richer this year, thanks to the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. Youngsters and those new to the state might not know that their equal stake in the state’s oil wealth was once hotly contested. Early drafts of the PFD plans called for payments to be tied to longevity of residency—$50 for every year of residency since 1959. If that just made your heartbeat quicken, read on.
The UAA Archives and Special Collections is home to the Ron and Penny Zobel papers, three boxes of court filings and correspondence that paint a vivid picture of the sourdough vs. cheechako mentality that shaped early PFD debates. Sheafs of papers turned over by the Zobels to the archives preserve an important story.
Spoiler alert: The outcome of this story is in your bank account or heading your way via paper check posthaste.
U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on PFD
Ron and Penny Zobel, Anchorage lawyers and relative newcomers to the state in the late 1970s, sued to “democratize” the PFD, giving all residents an equal share of the state’s oil wealth. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If you’ve ever read the online comments section of an Alaska news source—Anchorage Daily News, Fairbanks Daily News Miner, Alaska Dispatch—you’re well aware that Alaskans can be opinionated and relish the opportunity to vigorously express their First Amendment right to free speech.
No online comment sections in 1980 meant letters to the editor, letters to the Zobels, bumper stickers, t-shirts and plenty of public debate.
The Zobel’s challenge of the original PFD distribution plan favoring the state’s sourdoughs meant a delay in distribution, so rather than big checks for long-time residents in 1980, the case worked its way through Alaska courts and on up to a decision in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Led by Chief Justice Warren Burger, the court struck down the original distribution plan as unconstitutional by a vote of 8-1 in June 1982, with Justice William Rehnquist the sole voice of dissent.
Gov. Jay Hammond and Alaska lawmakers hammered together a back-up plan to share the wealth equally among Alaska residents. In 1982, the very first PFD checks for $1,000 were mailed out to those who qualified.
‘Learning is Permanent’
Also living in one of UAA’s story vaults—UAA/APU Consortium Library Archives and Special Collections—are the David Rose papers. Rose served as the first executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, the organization that manages Alaska’s share of oil revenues.
In 1989–1990, the corporation commissioned the “Learning is Permanent” curriculum for grades 1-12. The box sets of posters, games, videos and workbooks are part of the Rose collection. The posters provide an interesting glimpse into history.
The corporation’s projections of fund growth appear to have been on track, too. This year, the fund is hovering in the $47 billion range, on course to meet the 2018 projection of $50 billion.
Alaskans seem to have no trouble deciding just how to use their PFDs, but the school curriculum developed by the corporation gave kids the chance to mull it over with age-appropriate lessons in economics.
Where will your PFD dollars have an economic impact? Keep in mind, there could have been a certificate of achievement in it for you if you carefully considered all your options!
To contact the UAA/APU Consortium Library Archives and Special Collections, call (907) 786-1849 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.