My Turn: Fiscal gap hysteria and fund folly

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2002

Take about a third of your income and put it in a savings account. Then tell your creditors you can't pay their bills because "that" money's protected and only for free distribution to your family. Can any business or household run this way? No, just Alaska state government.

Add in an apocalyptic portrayal of the consequences if you don't do what political convenience says and you have the Alaska of today. Hysteria is a necessary ingredient because it works to stop public questioning and thinking.

A constitutional spending limit is a perfect way for the Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai area to get what it wants while "legally" giving less to the rest of the state. As the redistricting plaintiff attorneys have so aptly pointed out, the majority of the population now lives there and they desire control and compact districts free from the rest of the state. If money gets tight, it's obvious how this plays out.

Why should we keep the present Fairbanks campus of the UOA now that we have that new, modern Anchorage campus to expand onto? What a great way to make even greater efficiency and save money.

Many of the same politicians who push cuts couldn't wait for the billion-dollar spending orgy of new revenues in the mid '90s; which took the Alaska Supreme Court a few sentences to declare unconstitutional. But they did accomplish their objective by spending the money first. Born-again fiscal conservatives all of a sudden?

An income tax is nothing but a way of taxing the dividend away from some, while others get to keep theirs making it a select entitlement program. And I don't need someone to give us unnecessary taxes because we all could use a civics lesson.

Do you think the seven and six-figure lobbyists are around because there isn't a lot of money?

There is a reasonable way to work this out without the hysteria, keep the dividend (yes, slow it's growth a reasonable amount) and no income tax. Magic? Hardly. True, it does require an open viewpoint rather than simplistic political pandering.

The income tax suggested would be about 1.5 percent annual earnings on the Permanent Fund (without an enormous, privacy invading bureaucracy). You mean we can't devote that little to the roads, schools and public safety of Alaska?

Now the Permanent Fund wants to have the politicians make their life easier with special legislation (SJR 13/HJR 15). Inflation-proofing free money is OK, but not for schools, public safety, roads, etc.? The fund has lost billions in the market, but we can't break off $400 million in income (not principal) to fund public needs?

I also doubt this will stifle federal tax issues regarding whether the Permanent Fund really is a non-profit government fund. The fund certainly isn't non-profit and the only real spending on government is the payroll for fund and dividend distribution workers. It also earns its income, tax free, at the expense of the rest of the country. Stevens, Murkowski and Young won't keep the IRS at bay forever on this.

But our leaders would rather avoid reasonable alternatives by forcing income or sales taxes, continue to tax us by not funding municipal services, schools, and public safety properly; pushing it down to local taxpayers. Their excuse is pointing to the thoroughly botched vote of two years ago that was surrounded in the same hysteria and set up to fail.

I have no intention of standing idly by while they tax away my dividend so others can keep theirs.

What if we don't pass a "plan" this year? I'm quite sure neither future Gov. Murkowski or Ulmer will shut down the schools and throw the public assistance people out on the street. Neither is going to tarnish their legacy in such a foolish and unnecessary way. There are reasonable solutions, and they will have to own up to them. That is what happens when the world is supposed to end and you have no excuse not to have it go on. (It will be much more difficult to explain the nagging question as to why this could not have been done a long time ago.)

You see, the "fiscal gap" has never been about how much money there is in Alaska; of that there is a sufficient amount. This is about who gets to spend the money, and more importantly, on whom the money is spent.

Anselm Staack of Juneau is a CPA and an attorney who came to Alaska in 1974.

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