South Kenai Peninsula Representative Paul Seaton’s office built a battery of surveys and organized two town hall meetings last week in Ninilchik and Homer. Seaton's primary goals were to convince peninsula residents of the seriousness of the state’s financial dilemma; and second to hear their thoughts on how to avoid running off a fiscal cliff. KBBI’s Quinton Chandler has more.
The surveys and the meetings coordinated by Representative Paul Seaton of Homer are a smaller cog in a statewide effort. Jenny Martin, spokesperson for Representative Seaton, says the idea was sparked at Governor Bill Walker’s June conference held in Fairbanks, Building a Sustainable Future.
“Everyone was encouraged to go back to their districts and their communities to have that same conversation about revenue options and the future of our state’s financial system,” says Martin.
Seaton’s office worked with the Walker Administration to enlist State Revenue Commissioner Randall Hoffbeck as a guest speaker. Hoffbeck says the state will see annual deficits near $3 billion unless there are cuts to state programs and unless revenue lost to plummeting oil prices is replaced.
“That’s what it was last year. That’s what it is this year and unless some changes are made that’s what it is going to be going forward until we essentially run out of money. Then we'd have to make changes because we wouldn’t have the money to support the budget,” says Hoffbeck.
This summer state lawmakers voted to make up for Fiscal Year 2016’s budget shortfall by drawing funds from reserves. But, eventually Alaska’s savings will run out. There is a long list of actions the state can take to generate funds, but some are less agreeable than others. To capture residents’ feelings toward each option Seaton’s office first posted a survey online that is based on a model posted to the governor’s website.
“…you can actually go in and try to balance the budget yourself. In that model there is a description and listing of all the different revenue options. [It explains] what they are and what they can mean,” says Martin.
A few of the more self-explanatory revenue options mentioned in the survey were: a state income tax, a capital gains tax, a school tax, a state sales tax, and a state property tax.
Also included were questions on more complex issues like Gross Value Reduction, separate accounting for oil and gas companies, a state share of Permanent Fund Revenues and capping the Permanent Fund Dividend. According to the initial results 162 people responded to at least one of the survey’s 32 questions. Seaton’s office also conducted live surveys during both town halls to get Homer and Ninilchik specific answers.
“For example in the Homer area 65% of the people that attended were interested in having an income tax and 30 some percent were interested in having a capital gains tax…,” says Martin.
19 people participated at the Ninilchik meeting and 81 participated in Homer. Jeanne Parker attended the Homer meeting and she’s grateful for Hoffbeck and Seaton’s explanations on the looming budget gap and revenue options.
“It’s way easier for me to have somebody present it like that than to have to read about it or other ways,” says Parker.
Parker supported reinstating a state income tax, increasing tax rates on mining and oil companies, and capping the PFD. Jenny Martin with Representative Seaton’s office says the online survey will be closed at the end of September at which point responses from it and the surveys conducted in Ninilchik and Homer will be combined.
“Representative Seaton is going to use that when he goes back to Juneau to support different revenue options. Some of these suggestions may be ones that he might be willing to introduce or it might be better coming from a different committee,” says Martin.
Seaton’s office has already shared their results with the Department of Revenue and the Governor’s office.