KODIAK — From Statehood, in ’59, through building the pipeline Alaska struggled, yet always had a balanced budget through consensus and compromise. Full support was given for education, public safety, transportation (yes, the ferry system), public health and fish and game. This was accomplished with an income tax and head tax for schools, fisheries taxes and limited revenue from forests, mining and services rendered.
Currently, the “Budget Ball” has begun. Your input to the legislature is vital in this process to maintain the services and quality of life we have come to enjoy.
On Wednesday, evening the legislative information office held a teleconference on Senate Bills 23 and 24. These bills are a heart of Dunlevey’s budget and could pay over a $3,000 dividend. This, combined with increased benefits for the oil industry, no new revenue sources, massive reductions for education, ferry system, state program, revenue sharing, withholding the raw fish tax from municipalities and so on.
Sen. Mike Sowers, Wasilla, did a masterful job chairing the hearing. He “restricted testimony to 1 minute… with no comments on budget allowed.” There was more than two hours of passionate testimony by 132 folks. In a classic Alaska response: nearly everyone commented on the budget along with the bills.
Folks from Utquiavak, formerly Barrow, south past Ketchikan weighed in. A really large number from our sister fishing towns of Sitka and Cordova commented against the bills. Only two from Kodiak testified: one pro, one con! As one might expect, rural and coastal Alaska was generally against the bills while the more urban connected Rail Belters were generally in favor.
A surprising number of people, even the six in favor of the bills, voiced the need for new revenue: “increase money from oil companies,” “go back to an income tax,” “consider a school head tax.”
Many Rail Belters were for cutting all government, some of the comments: “no new taxes;” “eliminate ferries,” “our schools are so bad,” “that’s why we homeschool” so cut the school budget state wide, and “Walker’s dividend cuts were illegal.”
The latter thoughts are interesting perspectives, as the State School program has dedicated funds for homeschooling program; and the State Supreme court ruled the reallocation was okay.
At the hearings end, the tally was 71 opposed and 61 in favor.
The chair “closed public testimony at this point”… “It’s a hot topic and emotions clearly are running high in conjunction with the budget.”
The proposed budget will hit Kodiak and rural Alaska much harder than the Rail Belt. One would hope that folks who are concerned about the budget will email the committee, Senate State Affairs: SenateStateAffairs@akleg.gov and CC:Senator.Gary.Stevens@akleg.gov and Representative.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov
The “budget ball” has just begun. Debates on increasing revenue versus cutting programs and services are just beginning. But that’s floating in the next tide pool.