Alaska editorial: More energy relief should go to poor

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2008

Gov. Sarah Palin's latest proposal for helping Alaskans with energy costs calls for anyone who has lived in Alaska at least six months to receive a $1,200 check.

That's in addition to the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, for those eligible.

It's a simplified variation of the governor's earlier plan to send residents $100-per-month debit cards, which posed all sorts of problems, and would have cost too much to administer.

We still don't think it makes sense for the state to spend $729 million - real money, folks - on one-time payments that simply postpone the day of reckoning for Alaskans to face higher energy costs.

But if the political reality is that the state's going to pass out energy checks, at the very least the state should find a way to give more to the people who need it most.

Many Alaskans are hurt by the rising cost of gasoline and heating fuel. But the truth is, some Alaskans are suffering much more than others.

A new research report by the UAA Institute for Social and Economic Research documents that: Poor rural residents must hand over 41 percent of their incomes to heat for electricity and heat.

Well-off Anchorage residents pay 2 percent of their income for home energy use.

Clearly, high oil prices are an economic catastrophe for the poorest residents in remote places, while they're a mere inconvenience for high income Anchorage households.

The state could provide extra energy-relief money for those who really need it by doubling the $1,200 for those on Food Stamps, for example, and by pumping more money into the Power Cost Equalization program. The program subsidizes some of the difference between urban electricity costs and the higher costs in rural Alaska.

Besides the $1,200 giveaway, the governor proposes to suspend an 8 cent per gallon state fuel tax for a year, at a cost to the state of $40 million.

We're disappointed the state is looking at dropping a few cents per gallon of gas rather than putting some of that $40 million into public transit systems - a long-term way to reduce use of fossil fuel that could be achieved quickly.

Especially since Alaska already has the lowest gasoline tax in the nation, according to The Tax Foundation.

Maybe legislators, who are expected to take up the energy-cost relief proposals in a special session this summer, will see the folly of giving out so much cash willy-nilly, instead of spending it where it will do the most good.

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