Opinions

Pulling together for Alaska’s future

AARP and Alaska Municipal League are pulling together toward Alaska’s future, where Alaskans of all generations can stay in Alaska. Together, we know that the state’s budget shortfall must be addressed; new revenues are needed to continue to provide the state infrastructure and services that Alaskans need to allow them to remain in their communities as they age.

Throughout September, AARP and AML co-hosted live online conversations with legislators where participants discussed budget solutions for a sustainable Alaska, with a focus on potential new revenue sources.

We hosted Sens. Jesse Kiehl, Peter Micciche and Natasha Von Imhof, as well as Reps. Andy Josephson, Ivy Spohnholz, Bart LeBon and Adam Wool to discuss raising new revenue through oil taxes, sales taxes or income taxes. The conversations also touched on what role the Permanent Fund and Permanent Fund Dividend play in a sustainable fiscal plan. To watch recordings of this series, visit https://states.aarp.org/alaska/aarp-aml-conversation-series.

Our conversations were not technical analyses of various revenue solutions. Instead, they focused on policy and politics for how the different types of taxes could be part of a comprehensive fiscal plan. We hosted this series to support public discussion of new revenue possibilities.

Throughout these conversations, legislators thanked the state’s Fiscal Policy Working Group, who were charged with the difficult job of working beyond political ideologies and party affiliation to come up with solutions for addressing Alaska’s fiscal challenges.

AARP and AML were pleased to see the Fiscal Plan Working Group’s recommendation for adopting a broad-based revenue measure, in addition to other revenue measures, as part of a comprehensive solution.

AML and AARP support a broad-based tax as part of a comprehensive fiscal plan for different reasons, rooted in the same deeply held beliefs. We want Alaskans to be able to live and thrive in their local communities throughout their lifespan. Over the past five years, budget cuts have fallen heavily on local governments, making it more challenging for local leaders to sustain their communities.

Alaska has the fastest growing senior population in the country because the pioneers and elders who contributed to today’s Alaska have chosen to stay here as they age. That’s good for Alaska. Older Alaskans are very civically engaged, with voting among those 50 and older significantly higher than any other age group. The 50 and older population in Alaska also has higher rates of volunteering and charitable giving. They account for more than half of consumer spending in Alaska. Regardless of political ideology, AARP members surveyed from across our state oppose continued cuts to state services and support revenue solutions, including a broad-based tax (https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/economics/info-2021/alaska-budget-taxes-survey.html).

Legislators broadly acknowledge the uncertainty of relying on overly optimistic oil and financial market predictions to assure our state’s future, and there appears to be a strong commitment to stabilizing PFD payments. These factors combine to require new revenues, and a broad-based tax needs to be part of that package to balance the books. Independent of the size of the PFD, addressing the revenue shortfall should halt the decline in funding to programs and partnerships that Alaskans rely on.

On behalf of the 75,000 AARP Alaska members and AML’s 165 local governments, we urge legislators to continue the conversations and work needed to get to a sustainable, comprehensive fiscal plan in the fourth special session and beyond. Their work and progress in solving this challenge are vital to older Alaskans and local governments so we don’t continue to see state services and infrastructure eroded. It is vital to keeping Alaskans here now and into the future.

Alaskans, you too, are critical to this conversation and its outcome for the future of our state. We encourage you to continue following and participating in public hearings on revenue and fiscal plan bills this month and beyond at akleg.gov.

Marge Stoneking serves as advocacy director for AARP Alaska.

Nils Andreassen serves as executive director for Alaska Municipal League.

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