Southeast Community Meetings – Public Comment OverviewBy Rep. Dan Ortiz
March 30, 2019
In Ketchikan, almost 130 people attended, and 51 people spoke during the 2.5 hours allowed for public comment. In Sitka, over 200 people attended and 61 people spoke. I’d like to share some comments and observations from the Sitka and Ketchikan meetings.
I began the meetings with an overview of our current fiscal situation, focusing on the relationship between department budgets and our Permanent Fund Dividend. We have a total of $5.27 billion available for Fiscal Year 2020 to fund both the state budget and this October’s PFD. That $5.27 billion total comes from our traditional revenues from oil and other taxes, along with the funds from SB26, which allows us to now use a portion of permanent fund earnings with a sustainable formula that will protect the fund for the long term.
We must make expenditures match revenues. To do this, the Governor’s proposed budget cuts $1.6 billion from last year’s budget (or takes shared revenues, like the raw fish tax, from local governments) in order to fund a “full” $3,000 dividend based on the historic formula used before 2016.
Overall, only one person spoke in favor of Governor Dunleavy’s budget, and nine other speakers suggested smaller cuts to particular departments or programs, most frequently the budgets for the Office of the Governor and the Legislature, which combined make up only 1.6% of the Unrestricted General Fund budget.
Forty-seven people spoke in favor of a smaller dividend over drastic cuts, while ten people spoke in favor of a full dividend. Of those ten, eight of them also said that increased revenue would be needed to help pay for the full dividend. However, any plan to implement new sources of revenue could not feasibly go into effect until at least FY2021, making it a moot point for the current budget debate.
Regarding potential increased or new revenue sources for the future, an income tax was the most popular suggestion, with 48 people speaking in favor and three opposed. Reducing oil tax credits garnered 32 affirmative comments and zero in direct opposition. A sales tax was less popular, with two opposing comments and four in support – many with the stipulation that communities who already have a local sales tax be partially exempt.
Other revenue suggestions were to increase the motor fuel tax, increase the alcohol tax, put toll booths on paved roads, and implement an education head tax like Alaska had before 1980.
Overall, an overwhelming majority of people spoke in favor of protecting funds for our ferries, public radio, libraries and museums, Pioneer Homes, and education, including early learning, with the understanding that funding these services would result in a lower PFD.
It was an honor to hear from some of the larger communities in Southeast. Speaking face to face was empowering and insightful. For people who were unable to attend the meetings, especially members of smaller communities in my district, I strongly urge you to call my office at 907-247-4672 or email me at Rep.Dan.Ortiz@AKLeg.gov
Rep. Dan Ortiz
Received March 28, 2019 - Published March 30, 2019
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