Legislators should step aside if they won't solve fiscal gap

Posted: Wednesday, April 28, 2004

I see in the newspapers around the state that our Legislature is working hard at finding ways to avoid addressing the state's fiscal problems. First they want to raise taxes on smokers, a head tax on tourists, increased user fees, figure out ways to use permanent fund earnings, the list goes on and on. Nowhere do I see a serious attempt to address a broad-base tax as recommended by the Conference of Alaskans. As a voter I am sick and tired of the lip service of some of the elected representatives in the Legislature. The time to protect your constituents, special interests, or your electability is long past. It's time to step up and do your job or get out.

The statewide sales tax is unfair and you know it. Communities that haven't gotten a dime from the state in capital project money for many years have had to impose a city sales tax to build improvements in their communities while they watch others such as Anchorage and Fairbanks pave their city streets or build hiking trails with state money. I know they can't help it if they are the population centers and outnumber the rest of the state with elected representation, but that's not my fault either. Yet that has been and continues to be how the system works. The governor and some of you insist it's fair. Pretty heartless of those of you who think a state sales tax of, say, 5 percent, would be fair. Anchorage residents would pay 5 percent while Skagway would pay 9 percent, Juneau would pay more than 10 percent, and Wrangell would be around 12 percent. Why would you care? Most of you don't represent us anyway. This is not an attempt to slam Anchorage or Fairbanks. They truly need money to repair roads that are in bad shape. Perhaps had they imposed a sales tax the mill rate wouldn't be where it is now and some of the roads wouldn't be in bad shape.

A smoker's tax and a tourist head tax or taxes targeting specific groups of people: Why stop there? We could tax people who are fat, people who are handicapped, people who have boats or planes, and people who hike or climb mountains. All of these cost money every year in terms in medical, search and rescue, or improved access.

You whine "an income tax won't by itself fix the problem." Well you've had eight years of talking and no action. Had you done something five years ago we would be better off today for it.

I remember when elected officials cared about all Alaskans everywhere, not just the ones in their community they were elected from. I remember Gov. Egan and Fred Zharoff as people who cared enough to come to Skagway to assist us where they could. More recently I remember Jerry Mackey, Peter Goll, Bill Ray, and others who cared about all Alaskans. Current legislators who care enough to come and visit are Sen. Lincoln and Rep. Al Kookesh.

It's way past the time when a fair, broad-based tax should have been implemented. This needs to happen first to have any hopes of getting my support for spending permanent fund earnings, because I believe once you get your hands on the permanent fund dividend you will not follow through on anything else. I also will not support using permanent fund earnings unless it is specific on where it will go.

It will take vision and courage to fully address our fiscal problems in a fair responsible manner. If it isn't in you, go home and give someone else a chance.

• John Mielke was born and raised in Juneau and has lived in Skagway for 37 years. He served 12 years in city government, eight as councilman and four as mayor. He currently works for the White Pass railroad as vice president of rail operations.

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