If you listened to all of the testimony Tuesday night, you’d come up with a surprising conclusion: Alaskans want an income tax.
In a marathon 4½-hour session of public testimony, members of the Alaska Senate Labor and Commerce Committee heard from more than 100 Alaskans with opinions.
A majority of those Alaskans asked the Alaska Senate to follow in the footsteps of the Alaska House and pass House Bill 115, creating Alaska’s first income tax since 1980.
“We’ve forgotten, because of our resource wealth, that this is our obligation,” said Bruce Jaffa of Moose Pass.
As many as 60 percent of testifiers were in favor of the tax, though the exact tally depends on who’s doing the counting.
Staff for Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer and the bill’s No. 1 backer, counted 61 people in support, 48 opposed and 5 indeterminate. Staff for Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage and chairwoman of the committee, counted 54 speakers in favor of the tax and 53 against.
Staff from the Senate Records Office counted 61 proponents and 55 opponents.
Duane Christensen of Anchor Point remarked at the unexpected wave of support for the tax.
“I’m either in an alien alternate universe or I’m still in Anchor Point,” he said before adding that he opposes HB 115.
“You’re the thin red line standing against the tearing-apart of our future,” he told the senators listening by phone.
Tuesday’s testimony was unusual because the limited statewide opinion polling publicly available indicates most Alaskans are still opposed to the tax.
In late February and early March, a statewide poll conducted by the Alaska Chamber of Commerce found that only 41 percent of Alaskans support an income tax. In Southeast Alaska, a small majority favor the tax.
On Tuesday, the support came not just from Southeast Alaska, but from across the state.
From Homer, retired accountant Clyde Boyer Jr. said he didn’t “see any problems by my clients when Alaska had a state income tax before,” and he doesn’t think Alaskans will have problems with it again.
Juneau’s Beth Rivest said she supports the tax because it is “part of a plan to help all Alaskans” by fixing the state’s deficit.
“I am a human, and I believe in humanity, and there are people we have to care for,” she said.
Opponents of the measure called for the Legislature to cut more from the state budget (it has been reduced 44 percent since 2012) before implementing a tax.
“Reduce the government and budget before you would tax the private economy. Kill this bill,” said David Boyle of Anchorage.
“Our budget is out of control,” said Matt Steele of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. “The income tax cannot go through. I beg you to stop it.”
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