A new committee was formed in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday to consider new revenues, such as an income tax, as the state grapples with an expected $1.2 billion budget deficit next year.
The panel is called the House Ways and Means Committee, and Anchorage Democrat Ivy Spohnholz will be chairwoman. It was formed by a vote of 21-18, pretty much down party lines with all of the “nay” votes coming from Republicans who argued that the panel is redundant.
The House also announced standing committee assignments. Three Fairbanks lawmakers will sit on the Finance Committee, which takes up all bills with a fiscal note, including the state budget.
“Now that the House is organized, we’ll hit the ground running and start advancing policies that protect the health and welfare of Alaskans, confront our budget challenges, and improve public safety,” House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said in a prepared statement.
A coalition of 15 Democrats, four Independents and two Republicans controls the House, led by Stutes, who is in her fourth term and has twice before caucused with Democrats.
Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, voted to approve the House’s organizational plan — the final vote was 22 yeas and 17 nays — but has declared herself a member of neither the Republican Minority nor the House Coalition. Still, she was granted a seat on the House Finance Committee.
Leading the new Coalition with Stutes is Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, majority leader; Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, Rules Committee chairman; and Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, majority whip.
Heading the House Finance Committee will be Neal Foster, D-Nome, and Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River. Fairbanks Republicans Steve Thompson and Bart LeBon along with Democrat Adam Wool are Finance Committee members.
A spreadsheet provided by Austin Baird, communications director for the Alaska House Coalition, shows the only Interior House member to be named head of a standing committee is Democrat Grier Hopkins, who will serve as co-chairman of the House Transportation Committee. He will also serve as chairman of the Special Committee on Arctic Policy, Economic Development and Tourism. Hopkins was additionally tapped to serve as a member of the Education and Resources committees.
Rep. Mike Prax, R-North Pole, is listed as a member of three committees: Community and Regional Affairs, Education, and Health and Social Services.
Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, is listed as a member of the Education, Resources and Transportation committees.
Wool said he will serve on the new Ways and Means Committee where he is hoping to dive into his proposal to address the upcoming budget shortfall with an annual dividend capped at $1,000 and a 2.5% state income tax on federal adjusted gross income, minus the first $10,000.
A family of four with an income of $100,000 would face a $2,000 state income tax bill and collectively would receive $4,000 in dividends under the plan, according to Wool.
“I think the Ways and Means Committee will be a place where you can focus in and drill down on some of these important fiscal issues concerning revenues,” Wool said. “Even the governor said that by 2023 we need to raise $1.2 billion in new revenue.”
Ben Dietderich, communications director for the Alaska House Republicans, said the new Ways and Means Committee is unnecessary and that the House Finance Committee is the proper venue for addressing revenue measures.
“Considering it took 31 days for the House to organize, we don’t think it’s responsible to assemble a second committee to oversee finance-related matters in our body,” said a statement provided by Dietderich and attributed to the Minority caucus. “We don’t need to complicate our processes or entice more egos by appointing more chairs. We need to get to work.”
The House additionally approved four other Special Committees on Energy, Fisheries, Tribal Affairs and Military and Veterans’ Affairs.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.