JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska lawmakers are running out of time this session to pass legislation aimed at resolving the annual debate over the size of the dividend that should be paid to residents from the state’s oil wealth fund. .

Legislative leaders said they consider it essential to resolve the divisive debate. But lawmakers have yet to agree on what a new formula should look like or what other elements should come with it, such as taxes. A Senate dividend bill was pushed back from the floor for additional work on Wednesday as it lacked votes to pass, Senate Speaker Peter Micciche said.

Recent high oil prices have prompted optimistic revenue forecasts after years of deficits, complicating any discussion of taxes as part of a long-term fiscal plan. A task force tasked with making fiscal policy recommendations last year included things like a new dividend formula, constitutional certainty around a dividend, new revenues and revised spending limits like necessary elements of an overall plan.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, a Democrat from Anchorage, said Thursday he was “a little less optimistic about getting a plan or even an element of a plan this year … but I didn’t give up.”

There are less than two weeks left in the session which started in January. All but one of the 60 seats in the Legislative Assembly are up for election this year. Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy is seeking re-election.

Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, said he would continue discussions with his colleagues to see if an agreement could be reached on a dividend approach that could garner at least 11 votes, the minimum needed for the move to the Senate.

Whether the bill resurfaces remains to be seen.

House Speaker Louise Stutes, a Republican from Kodiak, told reporters last week that if a bill were to pass the Senate and send it to the House, “we will approach it as best we can” in the remaining session time.

Dividends have traditionally been paid using income from the oil wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund. For years, the dividend was calculated using a formula based on an average of the fund’s earnings. But in 2016, amid deficits, the then government. Bill Walker vetoed some of the amount available for checks. The following year, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that absent a constitutional amendment, dividends must compete for annual funding like other state programs.

Lawmakers set the amounts, which ranged from a low of $992 to a high of $1,606 between the years 2017 and 2021.

In 2018, the legislature began using revenue from the funds to help pay the government in a state that has long relied on oil revenue. Lawmakers have sought to limit annual withdrawals for dividends and the government, adding to tensions over how money should be split between the two. Withdrawal amounts are based on a percentage of the market value of the fund. The limit for the next fiscal year is approximately $3.4 billion.

Due to the 2017 court ruling, some lawmakers say the only way to resolve the dividend debate is through a constitutional amendment. Not all lawmakers think a dividend belongs in the constitution.

But without tying the dividend to the Constitution, “you really don’t do anything. You just aren’t,” said Senate Majority Leader Shelley Hughes, a Republican from Palmer who was on the task force.

Governor Mike Dunleavy, who in 2018 ran in favor of a dividend in line with the old formula, urged splitting annual withdrawals 50/50 between dividends and the government. This approach would mean checks of around $2,500 this year.

Dunleavy also pushed for an additional distribution of about $1,250 this year to help Alaskans with high fuel and food costs.

The task force, made up of members from across the political spectrum, recommended lawmakers “work toward” a formula that devotes half of the draw to dividends as part of a larger plan.

The Senate is expected to begin debate next week on a budget package that proposes a dividend of about $2,500 this year, consistent with a 50/50 approach. The budget passed by the House called for a dividend of approximately $1,250 plus $1,300 as an energy assistance payment.

While the proposed total amounts are similar, Stutes said one concern is whether lawmakers want to set a precedent by paying a dividend at the 50/50 level.

Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Bert Stedman said while oil prices are currently high, prices are volatile and the state has a wide range of obligations to meet.

The dividend bill that spat out on Wednesday called for 25% of the drawdown to go to dividends from next year. He called for an increase to 50% of the drawdown to dividends in 2027 if the State Revenue Commissioner and the Director of the Legislative Finance Division by mid-December 2026 agreed that measures intended to generate at least $800 million of new annual recurring revenue had been passed.

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