It’s time for Alaska to step up. We’ve run out of savings time.
The Alaska Legislature needs to institute taxes now in hopes of preserving an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend in the neighborhood of $1,000 per person.
In the aftermath, Alaska would still have one of the lowest tax rates in the United States and it would still be the only one sending annual checks to every resident.
The Legislature should implement an income tax and raise the minimum oil tax and reduce the per-barrel tax credit. Other taxes need to be raised and the dividend has to be lower.
The tax increases will take time to implement, and the Constitutional Budget Reserve could well be reduced to the point where it is no longer useful for emergencies. Everyone will be unhappy.
What we need is compromise and leadership, qualities that have been in short supply.
Don’t like those options? Then provide specific cuts, such as shutting down the ferry system, laying off thousands of teachers, closing schools, dismantling the University of Alaska and cutting state and federal Medicaid spending by $700 million, the irresponsible options that Gov. Mike Dunleavy claims are waiting to be resurrected.
Dunleavy is preoccupied by the recall, hoping to distract the public with endless conversations that lead nowhere. The confusing jumble of charts and graphs created for his anti-recall conversations do nothing to clarify the financial reality that he resists facing.
He may think he has the option of staying in the grandstand during the demolition derby, but he doesn’t.
Our political, community and business leaders need to recognize that the worldwide spread of the coronavirus has triggered an oil price war that will soon drain all state savings except the permanent fund.
“Saudi Arabia kick started an all-out oil war on Saturday, slashing official pricing for its crude and making the deepest cuts in at least 20 years on its main grades, in an effort to push as many barrels into the market as possible,” Bloomberg News reported.
It quoted Iman Nasseri, managing director for the Middle East at oil consultant FGE as saying, “Saudi Arabia is now really going into a full price war.”
This war will wipe out the rapidly shrinking savings cushion that Alaskans have counted on to protect them from higher taxes and lower dividends, with elected officials never looking beyond the next election. Oil prices recorded the biggest one-day drop Friday since the financial collapse.
Hundreds of millions that the state had been counting on as recently as two months ago has probably vanished in a contest dictated by world events and competing interests over which Alaska has no control. We don’t know where this is going, but we can choose to respond in an intelligent fashion.
It’s time for Alaska to step up.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist who now writes an occasional column on Alaska politics and history. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.