The State of Alaska has a continuing and substantial fiscal challenge. Oil revenues have plummeted and savings are shrinking, leaving projected budget deficits averaging between $1 billion and $2 billion each year as far as the eye can see.
Alaskans are increasingly considering four options to address this yawning and persistent fiscal gap:
making substantial additional budget cuts
continuing to use more than 50% of the annual Permanent Fund draw to help pay for public services, even if that reduces Dividends
reinstating broad-based taxes like a personal income tax or a statewide sales tax
raising oil taxes
Alaska Common Ground is holding mini-debates on each of these four options Tuesday, February 11, at the 49th State Brewing Company in Anchorage at 717 W. 3rd Ave. from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The title of this event is “From Conflict to Compromise: Four Debates on Alaska’s Fiscal Options.”
If you come, you can hear pros and cons of each option from experts in a place where you can also buy pizza and adult beverages. This event is free, although there is a suggested donation of $10. There will be time for questions from the audience. You can find more information about this event set for Tuesday evening, February 11, at akcommonground.com. This event will also be taped and the tape will be put on that Alaska Common Ground website for your viewing pleasure if you can’t make it to the 49th State that evening.
This event features an impressive line-up of speakers.
Speaking for substantial additional budget cuts will be Melodie Wilterdink, the Associate Director of the Alaska Policy Forum. Her opponent will be former Democratic legislator Les Gara.
Scott Kendall, former Chief of Staff to Gov. Bill Walker, will advocate for continuing to use more than 50% of the annual Permanent Fund draw to help pay for public services, even If that reduces Dividends. Opposing this proposition will be former long-time Republican legislator Rick Halford.
Presenting the case for reinstating broad-based taxes will be Brad Keithley, Managing Director of Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets. Arguing against bringing back broad-based taxes to Alaska will be Tim Harper, an economist and consultant.
The mini-debate over raising oil taxes will pit Robin Brena, an attorney and prime sponsor of the initiative to enact the “Fair Share Act,” against Roger Marks, who has three decades of experience as a petroleum economist in Alaska.
Our state’s fiscal problems are real, big, and pressing. The actual options to deal with those problems are controversial. Here’s a chance to hear arguments for and against those options in a congenial environment. I hope to see you Tuesday evening, February 11.
Cliff Groh is a board member of Alaska Common Ground.