Politicians usually don't like to talk about taxes - especially to business leaders - but Rep. Lisa Murkowski used the "T" word while addressing the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday at the Hangar on the Wharf ballroom.
Whether they were being practical or polite, chamber members gave the Anchorage Republican a big round of applause. She covered a smorgasbord of issues at the luncheon, but focused on a long-range financial plan during her speech on business and politics in Alaska.
Although the state should see a surplus in revenue this year, Murkowski expects oil prices to drop and predicts a deficit as high as $500 million next year.
"We need to wean ourselves off the reliance on oil," Murkowski said. "While we've got the time, let's not be afraid to say 'income tax or sales tax.' "
She also spoke about a biennial budget as a way to streamline state government. Murkowski said a two-year budget would give lawmakers more time to focus on issues in the second year of each session.
She pointed out that 27 states have biennial budgets. Murkowski expects the issue to come before the Alaska Legislature this year.
"It would be a more efficient way to handle our business," she said. "It could also allow for a reduced session in the second year."
During her 20-minute address, Murkowski also discussed training Alaskans for upcoming jobs such as the gas pipeline project; the minimum-wage bill; education and exit exams; and the needs of rural residents.
But the biennial budget and a state tax seemed to be of most interest to the 50 people at Thursday's meeting.
"I'm not against taxation. My only concern is that the tax burden is evenly distributed," Juneau chamber president Jim Weber said. "We do need to get the issue out of the closet and talk about taxes."
State chamber president Pam LaBolle agrees.
"We need to talk about what kind of tax is the most fair," she said. "There has to be some part of the revenue stream coming from the citizens of Alaska vs. the business and resource people."
As for legislation to raise the minimum wage, LaBolle said the state chamber is surveying its members on the issue.
LaBolle was glad to hear Murkowski talk about a biennial budget.
"The state chamber testified on behalf of it in the past," LaBolle said. "It really will provide for better planning."
Mike Sica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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