When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and we were forced to close our doors almost overnight, I made the excruciating decision to lay off almost 150 employees.
Making such difficult decisions comes with the territory of being a small-business owner. It’s tough work under normal circumstances, let alone when a global pandemic is wreaking havoc on the nation’s economy. But at the end of the day, the health and safety of my employees and my customers must always come first.
We reopened our Midtown restaurant recently while strictly adhering to state and local guidelines. I am an optimist at heart, and I look forward to getting back to some semblance of normalcy in the weeks and months ahead. It has been a great joy to welcome back some of those laid-off employees, who are eager to return to work and serve our loyal customers.
This struggle has been real, and exhausting, but beginning the process of reopening our economy should help. I’ll tell you what won’t help, however — the oil tax ballot measure Alaskans will vote on later this year.
It boggles my mind that we are even having this debate right now. Our economy is in tatters and faces a steep climb to recovery. Why on Earth would we make a bad situation worse by piling on a huge new tax to an industry that is facing its own unprecedented problems? My businesses cannot survive if the oil industry pulls back for the long term. That is a simple, verifiable fact.
When oil companies spend money in Alaska, my restaurant sees more customers. We sell more pizza and more locally brewed beer. Our state needs that kind of activity more than ever, yet we are being asked to kick the oil industry while it’s down. It’s ridiculous. It won’t help them, and, more importantly, it won’t help businesses like mine, which are hanging on by their fingernails.
We need all oil and gas companies to ride out this storm and start investing again. Honestly, my concern for their fiscal health is rooted in my desire to keep my doors open and employees working. I think most Alaskans can understand and relate to that.
Now is the worst time to levy a massive new tax on any industry in Alaska. I don’t care if it’s the fishing industry, the tourism industry, the health care industry or whatever it might be. It will take all of us working together to get this state back on track, and we will only hurt ourselves if we single out one industry for a huge tax hike at a time when we need them to outlast this downturn.
If we want to see Alaska’s economy have even a chance of recovering, we must reject this oil tax ballot measure. It’s the wrong approach at the wrong time, and will end up backfiring on us, big time. Come by the restaurant any time for a locally brewed beer and a conversation about why my business and so many others are joining together in opposition to the oil tax ballot measure.
Matt Tomter is the owner of Matanuska Brewing and the Wild North Beverage Co. A pilot, he got his start in business with Airport Pizza in Nome, where he’d fly fresh pizzas to customers in the surrounding area.
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