By RICHARD RICHTMYER
Anchorage Daily News
January 19, 2006
State officials say that since 1996 the current system has led to more than $154 million in dividends finding their way into the pockets of people who have left the state and not come back.
About a third of the students and people in the military who leave, and continue collecting dividends, return, according to a study done for the Legislature.
This year, state lawmakers are looking at ways to stop the dividend loss.
A bill by Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, would require applicants who claim an allowable out-of-state absence - such as attending college, receiving medical treatment or being deployed with the military - to wait until they return to Alaska before getting their dividends. The measure is gaining support.
At the same time, Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, said he may try to add similar provisions to a separate Permanent Fund bill he has been working on that is expected to go before a conference committee of Senate and House members this session.
"Everybody knows someone who has bilked the system, and they're saying, 'What are you going to do about it?' " Seekins said Friday. "Maybe this is what we can do about it."
The Permanent Fund dividend program, under which Alaska residents share directly in the state's oil wealth, was started in 1982.
Alaska residency is the core requirement to qualify for the dividend, but "allowable absences" let people, under certain circumstances, continue to collect dividends while living outside the state - as long as they swear they intend to return.
As it turns out, many of them don't, according to the Permanent Fund Division study.
"The allowable absences were put in (the law) believing that people would come back," said Sharon Barton, the division's director. "Not very many of them are coming back."
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