Much newsprint and broadcast time is being spent debating whether the revenue increases in Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposed budget are taxes or user fees and whether, if they are taxes, he broke a campaign promise not to impose any.
The debate is misplaced.
While it is entertaining to watch the governor proclaim that increases in certain taxes are not actually tax increases, the proper question is this: Why is the additional revenue in his budget proposal in the first place?
Gov. Murkowski, while campaigning last year, announced a fiscal philosophy that he said would lead to a balanced budget. He said he would limit spending, find savings by improving efficiency, use his line-item veto, terminate programs deemed not effective, consider an oil price protection program, limit use of the Constitutional Budget Reserve, increase revenue from resource development, and not use the Alaska Permanent Fund without a vote of the people.
Nowhere does the governor's formal budget philosophy, made public after he had been on the campaign trail for 12 months, mention the general principle that new or increased taxes or user fees would be part of his budget-balancing plan. During the next few years, until new resource revenues come on line, we will have to tighten our belt and use our savings account,'' he stated.
Last week the governor finally explained that the belt-tightening meant Alaskans would need to dip into their purses and wallets. He announced he would seek an additional $113.6 million in the coming year through such measures as increasing the motor fuel tax and vehicle title and registration fees, imposing surcharges on ferry and studded tire use, and requiring visitors to buy a wildlife conservation pass'' when they take a commercial tour.
The total to be raised through these measures is no small amount when measured against the $189 million the governor has proposed in cuts. While the public often heard the governor campaign about cutting government, they heard nothing about him wanting their money.
While candidates need not always include detailed proposals when they are looking for votes, they mislead voters when they give an incomplete picture of how they would resolve a specific problem.
In this case, while there may be some merit to the proposals, Gov. Murkowski cheated voters when he put forward a budget philosophy last year that omitted the general budget principle of relying in part on new fees and taxes.
A spokesman for the governor said Tuesday there was no intention to mislead voters but acknowledged that it would have been good to say during the campaign that user fees or taxes whatever you want to call them would be part of the budget plan.
We agree and remind Gov. Murkowski that if he wants the public to support him in this trying fiscal time, he should be honest with us and state that his pre-election budget plan was incomplete and that, yes, he needs us to help him fill the budget shortfall.
Otherwise, why should we trust he's giving us the full picture next time?
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