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Letters to the Editor

Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2002

'Cut the budget' supporters will be first to scream when services cut

First of all, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to speak. This is democracy in action!

"Cut the budget" supporters are in an uproar now because of the possible, repeat, possible upcoming state taxes and other possible revenue sources. These supporters are screaming to cut the budget.

As a school district employee with 14 years of seniority, I can tell you first hand that our school district has been cut to the bone!

A previous Speaker of the House of Representatives said, "We will cut and cut until the public screams."

History has proven time and time again that when the public screams, "cut the budget," it's the working class employees that get cut. The employee totem pole is always cut from the bottom up and never the top down. History proves this to be a fact.

The "cut the budget" supporters will be the first ones screaming and complaining when they are not receiving the services that they think they should have.

"Why hasn't my road been plowed?" "Why are our schools so dirty?" "Why can't I get an answer when I call the state, borough, school district or city?"

Well, imagine that! It's because so many working class employees have been cut that only a few remain to provide the services that you are demanding.

Fewer and fewer employees and a constantly increasing work load have been the standard since 1986.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak.

Steve Wright

Soldotna

Alaska's financial outlook grim; change in state habits unavoidable

It is always interesting to observe a political debate in this great state where many of the debaters are motivated by "what's in it for me?" The "what" may be election, re-election, campaign money, power, fame, travel or all of these but presented in a rhetorical way that's supposedly good either for the people of Alaska or, in some cases, even good for the United States of America.

The current debate encompasses how to keep the Alaska government solvent in the foreseeable future and what revenue sources must be tapped or created to accomplish that solvency. Potential revenue sources on the table include income taxes, sales taxes, alcoholic beverage taxes, more oil and natural gas taxes, gasoline taxes, cruise ship head taxes -- taxes ad nauseum! And don't forget the permanent fund principal and earnings!

Has anyone noticed how many politicos campaigned on a platform of "spending cuts," "no new taxes," "I won't let anybody touch your permanent fund" or even "Alaska needs a long-range fiscal plan"?

Has anyone noticed that many of Alaska's natural resources are being severely depleted, and many of these resources are not renewable in your lifetime (when they are gone, they're gone!) such as timber, oil, mineral ores and maybe even some fish species? Then, there are some who say the answer to the fiscal problem is just cut spending, such as Mike Chenault (Clarion, Jan. 15) and Vic Kohring (ADN, Jan. 27) and Dave Donley (ADN, Feb. 13), but they never say where precisely to make those cuts or how deep. Sure wouldn't want to "gore somebody's ox."

And our illustrious Gov. Tony Knowles doesn't worry about re-election anymore, so now it's just tax and spend. His budget simply adds new items on to what it was last year, seemingly without any thought to any cost efficiencies anywhere in the system.

The current debate on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge exploration really gets at the heart of our fiscal crisis. There is so much disinformation in the public arena on this subject that it is really depressing. Even if successful, a 1 percent contribution to the U.S. energy supply in the next 10-20 years really ain't gonna cut it, Sen. Murkowski -- with all due respect.

And when do we have to replace the Deadhorse to Valdez oil pipeline? It is nearing the end of its design life. And how much will a new or renovated one cost? And who will foot the bill? The state of Alaska? The North Slope oil companies? The U.S. government? Maybe, if ANWR is part of the U.S. energy bill and/or the U.S. economic stimulus package now before Congress, the U.S. taxpayers will pay for it? Maybe they will pay for the proposed natural gas pipeline, too? Each pipeline is a multi-billion dollar item -- each! The state sure can't afford it, and the oil companies aren't volunteering any of their money either.

In my view, Alaska's fiscal outlook is grim, not because there aren't ways of addressing potential revenue shortfalls but because it seems nobody in the Legislature has the intestinal fortitude to tell the people of Alaska the news that makes politicos cringe, especially in an election year: new taxes.

After 20 years, the people of Alaska are again going to have to pay some finite fraction of the cost of Alaska government operations, or move to Nevada or Mexico or wherever for 185 days each year to avoid being taxed as a resident.

For some, this won't be a change in lifestyle at all except they won't be able to collect the permanent fund dividend (if it still exists) any longer. The longer the Legislature waits, the bigger the impacts will be on the people in any

given year (David Reaume, ADN, Feb. 10). And if a substantial percentage of Alaskans decide not to be residents anymore, the impacts on those remaining will be even larger! If new sources of revenue are found, along with real spending cuts in government operations, then new taxes can be phased in gradually over several years. Those are very big ifs.

And IF your legislator doesn't have specific ideas on how to solve this fiscal problem over the long term (more than 10 years), you might try to find a candidate who does. It will take at least two to three years to implement fully any five-to-10 year fiscal plan, and it will require a bipartisan effort to make it happen.

Let's hope there is some common sense involved, i.e., they don't tax the people below the poverty line and they do let the rich pay a substantially higher percentage income tax than the middle class.

There are three unavoidable things in life --death, taxes and change and most Alaskans are not going to like the changes about to be foist upon them. But, as "George, the Worst" found out in Anchorage, it's very difficult to do more with less or even to do the same (year to year) with less.

In Alaska, our natural resources are disappearing, and we have very few manufacturing or processing industries of a size to support our

economy and our state's infrastructure. What may be left to support our state government after the next 20 years are the remnants of our natural resources, taxes and tourism -- and tourism is questionable.

It's a very grim picture at best. It would be wonderful for someone to prove me wrong.

Richard Hahn

Soldotna



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