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All must give to resolve Alaska's fiscal woes, but shares must be fair

  • Author: Ed Wesley
  • Updated: August 5, 2016
  • Published August 5, 2016
 

This year Alaska's state elections are critically important for one reason: the budget. Never before has our state government and its leaders faced such a challenge.

The first step to addressing Alaska's $3.2 billion annual budget deficit is to take ownership of the problem, refrain from finger-pointing and work together to reach fair and equitable solutions. Juneau has been plagued by partisan bickering and gridlock — much like Washington, D.C., in recent years — and few of our leaders have been willing to stand up and take on the responsibility of correcting our state's fiscal path before it's too late.

As your state senator, I will not shy away from the hard choices and challenges that our state budget presents. As a retired senior tax adviser, insurance broker and former member of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Committee, I offer unparalleled experience, insight and credentials in this race to hit the ground running in Juneau and fight for you. You deserve someone with real-world experience to represent you and actively fight for you.

Long-term fiscal planning must include and consider the input of all groups of Alaskans — not just those who can afford to hire lobbyists or fly to Juneau. We must arrive at a balanced and sustainable budget, but I will not allow this to be done on the backs of seniors, students and those living on the edge of poverty. I believe that in order to be successful, our plan must include a wide group of vested stakeholders — from the individual all the way up to the largest corporation. We all must be willing to be part of a fair solution. No one industry or group should shoulder the entire burden of supporting government.

 

To tax or not to tax

We must systematically reexamine the exemptions and tax credits we offer to various industries in Alaska — not just oil and gas. We have many "indirect expenditures" or foregone revenues that may have made sense at one time, but now Alaska needs those revenues more than ever.

From 1949 to 1980, Alaska had a state personal income tax generating a stable and reliable source for Alaska to provide essential services. Today, thanks to the repeal of that stable source following the construction of the trans Alaska pipeline, and with our nearly total reliance on the increasingly volatile price of oil to operate our state, we may for the first time find ourselves unable to pay for even the most basic constitutionally mandated services like public safety, health, and education. The decision in recent years has been to harvest our state savings account s— which will soon be empty. That is no longer an option.

I believe that our state's budget can only be balanced through a prudent mix of smart, targeted cuts to discretionary state spending, coupled with implementing stable and dependable revenues going forward. Reductions should be made only with sensitivity and consideration for the impacts the cuts will have — especially when it comes to infrastructure and services that grow our workforce, keep our youths off the street and provide long-term benefits. We cannot afford to be penny wise and dollar foolish.

Additionally, we must reduce our dependence on the volatility of oil and world markets. Basic services must be ensured — and we can't rely on the stock market or the Middle East to dictate at what level we can provide safety and welfare for our citizens.

If we reinstate the state income tax, I support a sunset clause that will trigger a suspension of the tax when the state returns to sound fiscal stability. We can reach that point through increased production of our natural resources, royalty and tax revenue from a natural gas pipeline, or other growth in Alaska's industries.

An income tax must be progressive, with an offset for the Permanent Fund dividend — holding all Alaskans harmless for receiving this piece of their mineral royalty from Alaska's commonly owned resources.

There are some who are advocating for a state sales tax. If we as a state decide to go this route, I will fight to exempt essential services such as food and medicine — protecting low-income families and seniors. A sales tax offers our state an opportunity to take advantage of one of our most important renewable resources — tourists and visitors who come to see all that Alaska is blessed to offer.

 

Dividend veto

The governor this year vetoed half of the PFD. I believe that if the PFD is to be part of the solution to the imbalance of state government, each of us should have an equal voice  There should be a form attached to the PFD application that allows Alaskans to give their input. We're an owner state; the PFD is part of our share of the oil revenue. I question why low- and middle-income Alaskans should have to provide half of their PFD to balance the budget. This measure by itself is regressive and places a disproportionate share of the burden on those least able to carry it.

Finally, special-interest donations have had an undue influence on our politics, causing fear and greed: fear from legislators that special interests will support someone else against them,  and greed from the special interests to get all they can for their money no matter who it may hurt. I will accept only idividual donations

Ed Wesley is a Democratic candidate for the Alaska state Senate from District J, which includes Mountain View and downtown Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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