Alaskans are disgruntled and divided about the state's budget crisis and the officials they've elected to fix it, according to a new Alaska Dispatch News poll.
In the survey, conducted last month by pollster Ivan Moore, roughly half the 670 respondents handed out grades of D's and F's to the state's Democratic and Republican lawmakers, with Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, earning just a C average.
Fifty-five percent of respondents disagreed with Walker's proposal to restructure the Permanent Fund to help balance the budget, while 45 percent said the state's tax structure asks too little from oil companies.
The results, with a 3.8 percent margin of error, simultaneously reflect and inform lawmakers' listless responses to the budget shortfall.
After a 90-day regular legislative session, a 30-day extension, and a four-week special session, Walker's Permanent Fund proposal failed to advance to the floor of the state House. Democrats opposed it, saying they wanted sharper cuts to oil company subsidies. Republicans opposed it, saying they wanted bigger cuts to the existing budget.
After Walker last week vetoed half the money lawmakers set aside for Permanent Fund dividends, as well as funding for education and oil company subsidies, the Legislature will return to Juneau next week at the governor's behest for another special session to address the deficit. The poll was conducted before the vetoes were announced.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson said last month the Legislature's dysfunction this year has been "professionally embarrassing" — and the poll respondents, surveyed June 16 to June 20, held lawmakers in similarly low esteem, with minimal distinctions drawn between legislators in power and those without it — meaning Republicans and Democrats.
Asked to grade the handling of the deficit by Democratic legislators, who form the minorities in the House and Senate, 2 percent of respondents gave them A's, 15 percent gave B's, 28 percent gave C's, 17 percent gave D's, and 30 percent gave F's. Republicans, who lead the House and Senate majorities, got A's from 1 percent, B's from 11 percent, C's from 30 percent, D's from 20 percent, and F's from 32 percent.
Even Republican respondents seemed dissatisfied with the lawmakers from their party, with 45 percent giving legislative Republicans D's or F's.
Walker fared somewhat better. He got As from 7 percent of respondents, B's and C's from 26 percent each, D's from 14 percent, and F's from 15 percent.
But Moore's poll also showed a continuing erosion in Walker's support.
In Moore's previous survey in March, 46 percent of respondents gave Walker a positive rating, which shrank in June to 42 percent in this most recent poll. The high mark was a year ago, at 51 percent. There was also a corresponding slight increase in the governor's negative rating in the most recent poll.
The real test of Walker's popularity will come over the next few months, once residents have time to digest his decision to veto half their dividend checks, as well as money for other programs cherished by Alaskans across the political spectrum — from funding for education and the university system to a citizens panel set up to assert state interests in federal land management decisions.
As for Walker's proposal to restructure the Permanent Fund to help close the deficit — which he says is necessary to preserve the dividend program for more than a few years — a majority of respondents, 55 percent, said they either mildly or strongly disagreed with the plan, which would also reduce dividends. Forty-two percent agreed with Walker, while 4 percent were neutral.
Those figures contrast with the 52 percent of respondents who, in a January poll by Moore, said they supported a broader deficit-reduction plan offered by Walker, which included restructuring the Permanent Fund. At the time, 43 percent said they were opposed.
Lawmakers have since dismissed many of the pieces of Walker's comprehensive plan, including a new personal income tax, though proposal would have done far less to fix the deficit than Walker's Permanent Fund legislation.
A rewritten version of that legislation passed the Senate last month in a 14-5 vote, but it died when it failed to advance from the House Finance Committee, where one member, Anchorage Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt, said he didn't think the public was ready for the change — even if he knew it would ultimately be necessary.
Moore's poll showed overwhelming opposition to Walker's Permanent Fund proposal from Republicans and low-income residents, with narrower majorities saying they disagreed in most of the state's geographic regions.
But there were a few segments of respondents who favored it.
Fifty-two percent of Democrats said they agreed with the proposal, compared to 47 percent opposed. Half of Anchorage residents agreed, with 46 percent opposed, and the plan also drew support from 51 percent of respondents with household incomes exceeding $100,000.
Nearly half of all respondents, meanwhile, said Alaska's tax structure doesn't ask enough of oil companies, which for decades have paid for the vast majority of state government and services.
Forty-five percent said the state's tax structure asks too little of the companies, compared to 17 percent who said it asked too much, 22 percent who said it asked the right amount, and 15 percent who said they weren't sure.
The Legislature passed an oil tax bill last month that scales back companies' cash subsidies. But Walker is planning to introduce another new oil-tax bill during the next special session which could propose tax increases or further reduce tax credits that companies can claim.