Take Your $2,072 and Don't Pass Nome

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Guess what, dear reader. Your government wants to give you $2,072. Right now. No strings attached.

Ok, well maybe there are some strings attached. The biggest one being that you have to live in Alaska. As I detailed a few weeks ago, the state of Alaska every year takes some of the billions it has earned off of investing oil revenues and gives it to its residents, one check at a time.

On Monday, the state announced this year’s amount: $2,072. This is more than last year’s $1,884, even though the price of oil has fallen precipitously since then and the state has slashed its budget, cutting its Cold Case unit and funding for public universities. As I’ve written:

To an outside observer, it might be obvious that a state that doesn’t ask its residents to pay any taxes and is now experiencing a giant budget deficit should just stop writing residents checks, or at least use some of the earnings from its $50 billion in the bank to pay its bills. Since the Permanent Fund is projected to continue to make more and more money from its earnings, the state could still spend a portion of earnings and keep the reserve fund well-endowed. Or the state could put a cap on the yearly amount of Permanent Fund dividends (the amount of the dividend is currently calculated by a formula based on the average of the Fund’s income over five years).

But what do I know? I live in New York, where people pay both income taxes and sales taxes. And with all those tax dollars, the city can’t still make its trains run on time. Maybe Alaska has the right idea. With $2,072, I could buy my own ride to work.