Lawmakers ought to write a tax code that's fair to workers

Posted: Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Regarding the proposal of a state income tax vs. permanent fund earnings to fund state government: The issues are more complex than we are led to believe, and I think most Alaskans realize that, judging from what seems to be a groundswell of opinion in support of an income tax.

The real problem is that we've left the elephants in charge of the peanuts. I don't think very many of our supposed representatives in state or federal government rely on their yearly dividend check the way that a subsistence family in the Bush does. To them it's a sort of paycheck from the oil companies to take vacations or fund their kids' education, which is all well and good. I find the use of the term "social welfare program" offensive, however, and would urge those considering the permanent fund dividend in this way to keep in mind the long term impacts of non-renewable resource extraction to the society, economy, and environment of this state.

What we really need to look at is income disparity. According to Howard Zinn, 1 percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. There's a statistic for you. I have a feeling it's slanted even more in favor of the wealthy in Alaska. Most of our "representatives" seem to represent big business, supposedly in our interest. Give tax breaks as an incentive for large corporations to come in and extract our resources, and hopefully they'll give us jobs while they're at it rather than importing their own transient workforce.

Unfortunately, we're left holding the bag when the bust comes after the boom, when the oil is gone and all the trees are cut down. We are left to deal with the environmental degradation, the rising unemployment, the depletion of our fish stocks.

According to what Jay Hammond said at the Conference of Alaskans, only a third of the people in this state even earn enough to pay an income tax. It doesn't take much reading between the lines to realize that, here more than elsewhere, most people are "poor." That seems to have been translated by the good people running our government into various "tax the poor" strategies - a state sales tax, a gas tax, alcohol tax, cigarette tax, a head tax for workers, not to mention taking the dividend.

The wealthy don't need their dividends, their longevity bonuses. They aren't even necessarily impacted by cuts to public education. But what they don't want is an equitable income tax based on a percentage of the money they make in this state.

The horse fly in the ointment of a state income tax would be the people writing the tax code, our government. We've all seen how eager Exxon-Mobil is to compensate the people of Prince William Sound for the Exxon Valdez disaster, a consequence of cost-cutting and single-hulled tankers. They'd rather let most of them die than pay them a red cent. Yet these are the people our government would give tax-breaks, to encourage them to do business in the state.

If the question of a state income tax is to be put on the table, Alaskans must do two things: We must stand up and be the overseers of how that tax code is written, to ensure that those who make the most money in this state pay their fair share to run state government, so that no "special interests" are given special tax breaks. We must demand accountability from our lawmakers, at the polls and elsewhere, in how they spend our money. They need to be reminded, I think, that they work for us. Now more than ever.

• Jamison Paul is a Douglas resident, a commercial fisherman and concerned Alaskan.

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