There has been a lot of news to feed on for political junkies this season, during a time when things are usually cool and quiet. Trent Lott stepped down as U.S. Senate majority leader. Mary Landrieux kept her Democratic seat in Louisiana. Al Gore decided to drop out of the '04 presidential race. And, closer home, Frank Murkowski selected his daughter, Lisa, to be his successor in the U.S. Senate.
I'm pretty happy with that selection, looking at her record. The interesting thing is, Ms. Murkowski is a near duplicate of Mr. Murkowski's opponent in the gubernatorial election, Fran Ulmer. Like Ulmer, Ms. Murkowski supports woman's right to choose. Like Ulmer, Ms. Murkowski is a fiscal moderate who understands the importance of balancing a state budget, to keep the "infrastructure" from causing the state an economic collapse. Lisa Murkowski pushed through an alcohol tax, a dime a drink, and also supported a budget that couldn't pass through the inadequate state Senate. It is a very interesting selection, looking at Republicans and Democrats, and speaks toward good sense in the first steps of the Murkowski administration, when there was little common sense in the campaign.
No one likes taxes, but it looks like we are going to need to talk about some kind of budget package in this next legislative session, starting January. The question is, how does the state balance its budget, a constitutional mandate, and at the same time, keep the economy in a healthy position? Most states are facing this budget crunch, with a slow national economy, and the expectations from the boom years. And there is likely no save from federal help, or from cutting all the fat.
There are three basic options: Dipping into the permanent fund, setting up a sales tax, or creating some kind of income tax. With the permanent fund, the state overwhelmingly says, Don't Touch! We may need to, but likely it is not a great option for the economy. The nation's economy now basically is buoyed by consumerism, and the dividend check we get every year obviously gives a great boost when we all go out and buy things. This same thing can be said for having a state sales tax. It doesn't make much sense to stifle sales with taxes when sales keeps the economy afloat, now does it? And, especially for the low-income people, like me, it's hard to afford groceries and essential living items with a blanket sales tax.
This brings me to the idea of an income tax. Once this idea is brought up, we hear all the old rhetoric (tax tax tax liberal! Why punish the rich? The government takes everything!). I know this would be painful to even consider, as could be seen in the last election, at the honest introduction of Ulmer's parachute plan, of introducing an income tax when it's absolutely necessary. Ms. Ulmer was soundly defeated. But what's good for all Alaskans, and good for the economy? Without infrastructure of public schools, roads, hospitals, prisons, and so on, our economy collapses, not to mention our quality of life goes down, and low-income people are the most affected. An income tax would do the most to keep our state structure together, while damaging the economy the least, perhaps even allowing the economy to grow.
To have this happen, all Alaskans would need to be convinced this is best for our state, Mr. Murkowski would take a great political risk, as would the Legislature. Who gets behind taxes? It seems impossible. But perhaps its the only way to prevent a budget crisis, and an economic crisis.
We all hear the statement "our children are our future." Let's assure a good future, with good schools, good state services, a good economy. And let's not forget about our children, our future, when the present becomes challenging.
Ishmael Hope is a graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School Class of 2000, and an artist.