Local legislators heard ideas and indignation about Governor Mike Dunleavy’s proposed state budget on Saturday. Bart LeBon, the representative for House District 1 and Steve Thompson, the rep for House District 2, held a joint constituent meeting at Monroe High School in Fairbanks. Citizens spent more time talking about revenue, but they expressed fear and concerns about new reductions after five years of cuts.
Both representatives are Republican, but opened the meeting praising the mixed committees and working groups in Alaska’s House. LeBon is on the Finance committee, and Thompson is the House Majority Leader.
Then they started talking about smaller dividends from the Permanent Fund, spending more savings and taxes. Yes, Republicans talking about taxes.
LeBon, speaking on a public address system, explained they are reconciling budget ideas from the previous and current administrations.
“We’re going through the governor’s budget, we’re comparing it with Walker’s budget, and the final fiscal plan for the last year, and just blending those numbers together.”
Thompson said the House is trying to fit expenses into the classical revenue sources: corporate income tax, oil taxes and POMV, the Percentage of Market Value of the last five years of Permanent Fund earnings.
“We don’t want to over-draw our savings. We don’t want to draw any more out of the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve than that POMV. So we’re gonna try to make our budget fit as much as we can lower it down. There’ll be money left over for the dividend. How big that dividend will be will depend on how much we manage to reduce our savings.”
Mike Prax was the first of more than 60 people to come to the microphone. He said everyone should privately pay for the services they use. But no one in the next two hours took up that idea and by the break, he said he was disgusted with "the criminal state."
“It’s unjust. Tax means to force somebody else to pay. There’s no getting around that. I don’t care what the statutes are, that is the fact. It’s called ‘government’ its not called ‘providerment’.”
After he spoke, several mentioned a School Tax like Senator Click Bishop has introduced in SB 50, increasing taxes on gasoline, reducing oil tax credits that are given away to encourage extraction, and income taxes. Here are Nick Clark and Steven McGroarty.
Clark: “Click’s school tax, that’s one worth entertaining this year, and a gas tax. An increased gas tax.”
McGroarty: “Please tax me but make it fair for all Alaskans. I encourage you to have the courage to increase revenues, increase taxes but make them fair and equitable. Simply reducing the Permanent Fund dividend is a very regressive form of taxation; you’re taxing bankers, lawyers and doctors the same as you’re taxing rural, seasonal workers, and that’s not fair.”
Thompson responded Alaska’s gasoline tax is 8 cents per gallon with most states paying 30. About 50 million dollars would be raised if Alaska doubled its gas tax. Thompson also says he researched last year a state lottery based on Wyoming’s, which has similar population, but many Alaska legislators were opposed, and he stopped trying. LeBon responded a $30 per person school tax would raise only $13 million dollars, but Senate Bill 50 is likely to pass.
Others spoke to cutting the dividend of the Permanent Fund’s earnings. Here is Mike Cook.
“The earnings of the Permanent Fund are what are intended to fund the state government at this time. Don’t be afraid to using the earnings of the Permanent Fund. It is conservative and constitutional.”
Other issues brought up were the state’s two-billion-dollar maintenance backlog, state support for retirement funding of municipal employees to keep Troopers and firefighters from leaving Alaska, the state’s Pioneer Homes, changes in gaming enforcement, and sending Alaska’s prisoners to for-profit prisons out-of-state.
But LeBon says everything but the budget is being pushed out of the way for the next two months.
"It's only going to be budget, budget, budget."