Nearly all Alaska residents will each receive an $845.76 check this year as their share of the state's oil riches -- the fifth straight year that the payout has dropped.

The dividend checks are distributed every year from an oil royalty account called the Alaska Permanent Fund, created in 1976 after oil was discovered on the North Slope. About 603,080 Alaskans are expected to receive dividends this year.

For video store clerk Dave Marshall, the annual payout means getting a chance to escape the dark, cold winter of the far north. This year, he is thinking Hawaii.

"Somewhere nice and warm," said the 18-year-old Juneau resident. "You've got to leave once in a while."

The payouts are calculated based on a five-year average of investment income derived from bonds, stock dividends and sales, and other investments. Anyone who has lived in the state for more than a year is eligible.

Alaska's residents pay no state income tax and no state sales tax, and in the cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks, not even a municipal sales tax. Dividends, paid since 1982, have ranged from $331.29 to a high of $1,963.86 in 2000.

This year's payout is the lowest since 1988. Stock market losses in 2002 and 2003 drove the amount down this year, according to the Alaska Permanent Fund. And while this year's record crude oil prices bulk up the fund's principal, that money must be invested and is not figured into dividends.

Alaska faces chronic deficits because it relies on oil for about 80 percent of its revenue, but the legislature is restricted by law from touching the fund's principal and the dividends are all but untouchable politically.

The fund has paid $12.5 billion in dividends to Alaskans from 1982 through 2003, according to the Permanent Fund Corp.