I am a 38-year-old Alaskan. I was born five months after the first barrel of oil hit Valdez, and my family moved to the state the year the income tax was abolished. I have never paid taxes, and I'm ready for that to change. I want the Alaska Legislature to reinstitute an income tax.
My life has been touched by many great organizations and institutions in Alaska. As a result, my email inbox has been filled with pleas this past week as the House finance subcommittees' budget recommendations zeroed out or drastically reduced funding for dozens upon dozens of Alaska programs and services. Nonprofits, educational programs, senior assistance, public broadcasting, addiction treatment and business support programs are all being slashed. It's particularly alarming because justification brought forward by subcommittee chairs show little understanding for the workings of the institutions the state supports, and a tenuous grasp on economics.
And why are we doing this? Because some Alaskans — and a number of legislators, as their elected voices — are unwilling to pay for the services they receive.
Recently I spent a day in the Capitol with about 10 other young Alaskans as part of an all-volunteer collaborative, Our Alaska. Everyone took time off and paid their own way to Juneau to get a sense for the direction the Legislature is taking at this critical time. Our little group borrowed miles and slept on couches to show a unified concern for our future. We heard a lot of conflicting opinions in Juneau but we heard one thing loud and clear — the governor's income tax proposal is dead on arrival.
Not long after, I listened to an episode of a the podcast "Hello Alaska" in which the producer noted that today's leadership generation — the Baby Boomers — enjoyed a tax holiday during the prime of their working years in Alaska. Now, as the majority of the sitting legislators, they would rather slash and burn programs and services that were built up over a generation than contribute to the services they've accepted for a lifetime. Oh, and their refusal to contribute? It really affects our rising generations, not theirs. They already have paid-off homes, educated children and pensions, and have reached their educational aspirations.
A dear former boss and mentor once suggested to me that my generation had it so easy and we'd never had to pay a dime for all we'd received from Alaska. I had to remind him that his generation had never allowed us to. He blinked, then smiled.
So here I am, one young Alaskan with decades of earnings ahead of me, standing up to shout out loud and clear: TAX ME, PLEASE. I want to help pay for the quality of life and the state I love. Tax me, please. Stop the bloodbath of cuts to programs that make Alaska a good and decent place to live. Tax me, please. Help Alaska be the place where my niece, my future children and my aging father can live with opportunity and dignity. Please, tax me!
I'm the fortunate person that I am today because Alaska invested in me. I received a great public education. I got a degree at the University of Alaska with support from research programs. I've taken a dividend check for many, many years. I've volunteered for organizations and participated in community projects that were possible because of state investments. I've worked in an industry that is supported by active resource managers. I earn a good living. You know how the idea of an income tax makes me feel?
Grateful. And ready to pay.
Oddly, though, I can't. Not without the blessing of legislators who, at present, seem more interested in trashing the future than asking me to help pay for it.
Boomers, you have enjoyed your tax holiday. But don't force our rising generations to have one too, and don't wait so long to implement a tax that we've burned down Alaska's fiscal house first. Let me and my peers pick up where you've been unwilling. Let us actually pay for the services that support our quality of life and our opportunities. Do it now! Tax us, please.
Erin Harrington is part of the Our Alaska collaborative, a member of the Top 40 Under 40 class of 2016 and a consultant who works in fisheries and community development. She lives seasonally in Kodiak, Anchorage and Juneau. She wrote this on her own behalf, and not as a representative of Our Alaska.
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