Voices of Alaska: What’s obvious to Alaskans continues to bewilder legislators

  • Friday, March 31, 2017 11:28am
  • Opinion

Decisions regarding the size and funding of government impact all Alaskans so it’s important to have current, comprehensive information to help make wise choices. Each year, the Alaska Chamber asks Alaskans a broad range of topics. When it comes to funding State government, we find issues like taxation and use of the Permanent Dividend will forever be contentious. Alaskans are evenly split on restructuring the Permanent Fund to pay for state spending. How these overarching issues color Alaskans thinking is obvious when you look at the numbers.

Is Alaska headed in the right direction?

Since various groups started polling Alaskans regarding their perception of Alaska’s economy in 2013, we’ve seen an increasing lack of confidence, by 20 percent, away from a good or very good view of the Alaska economy.

The increase in concern is most dramatically stated when Alaskans are asked about the direction our state is headed. The number of Alaskans concerned we’re headed in the wrong direction has more than doubled since 2015, with nearly 70 percent of Alaskans believing the state is on the wrong track.

When you dive deeper into the numbers, it’s interesting to see the rural and urban areas share an increasingly similar view of the state. For instance, in 2015 just 47 percent of Alaskans in Fairbanks and the interior considered the state to be headed in the right direction. Anchorage and parts of rural Alaska were more bullish with around 60 percent holding a favorable view. Fast forward two years and opinions have converged. Just 23 percent of Alaskans think we’re headed in a positive direction, with all regions hovering within a few percentage points of the average.

Refreshingly, Alaskan business sectors are regarded more favorably than even just a year ago. We can only speculate, but as the jobs market tightens and economic concern about the State’s fiscal crisis increases, Alaskans are realizing the importance of these businesses to our economy.

Taxing our way to prosperity

We’ve heard repeatedly from Alaska’s current administration that any plan to address the State’s spending problem must include new taxes. Opinions regarding the validity of that requirement may vary, but the options for new and increased taxes on Alaskans are now well-defined and being discussed in the legislative arena.

The only broad-based tax being discussed, a personal income tax, happens to also be the least popular tax with nearly 60 percent of Alaskans opposing an income tax as part of a larger package to address the State budget deficit.

Notably, the only broad-based tax that is viewed at all favorably by Alaskans is the introduction of a state sales tax – and that only narrowly. A slim 53 percent of Alaskans hold a favorable opinion of a statewide sales tax.

Looking for positives

While it’s easy to find negative trends and opinions when suffering in a recession, it’s important to look for the positives. One obvious positive is the unprecedented strengthening of public support in favor of a spending cap. When tracking statistical numbers as they move year over year, it’s significant to note two or three point changes in public opinion. A 10 percent swing is certainly eye-catching. So it’s notable that with regard to a state spending cap, fully two-thirds of Alaskans support the implementation of a state spending cap – an upward swing of 20 percent since 2016. Support for a spending cap spans every Alaskan geographic, education and political party boundary.

Alaska remains deeply divide on issues on taxation and use of the permanent fund. But when you ask Alaskans – and we’ll likely see this issue on a ballot soon – a spending cap is an obvious win.

Our elected officials have the unenviable job of making some extremely difficult decisions, but by arming them with sound information we hope they can have the confidence they need to make those decisions.

Curtis W. Thayer is lifelong Alaskan and serves as president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.

More in Opinion

A roll of “I Voted” stickers await voters on Election Day in Alaska. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the prospect of a state constitutional convention. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Election winners, losers and poor losers

Tshibaka and Palin misread Alaskans by thinking Trump’s endorsement all but guaranteed they’d win.

This 1981 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an electron micrograph of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV. Children’s hospitals in parts of the country are seeing a distressing surge in RSV, a common respiratory illness that can cause severe breathing problems for babies. Cases fell dramatically two years ago as the pandemic shut down schools, day cares and businesses. Then, with restrictions easing, the summer of 2021 brought an alarming increase in what is normally a fall and winter virus. (CDC via AP)
Alaska Voices: What Alaskans need to know about RSV

By learning more about respiratory illnesses and taking helpful actions, we can all take steps to improve the situation

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Multiplying the power of every local dollar given

Each community foundation is a public charity that focuses on supporting a geographic area by pooling donations to meet community needs

The Homer Public Library as seen on Aug. 18, 2021, in Homer, Alaska. (File photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Point of View: Banning books corrodes diversity and inclusion in our community

Recently, a community member requested that a long list of books be removed from the children’s collection

Peninsula Oilers fans display encouragin signs for Oilers’ pitcher Bryan Woo, Friday, June 28, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: Judging judges — balancing the judicial selection process

Alaska’s method of selecting judges can be and should be improved.

Sarah Palin speaks at a July 11 Save America Rally featuring former President Donald Trump at Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The realities of Palin’s political demise

Palin wouldn’t be running for the seat if Rep. Don Young was still alive

Former Democratic state Rep. Beth Kerttula holds up a sign reading “Vote No Con Con,” during a recent rally at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza in Juneau. Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: What can a liberal and conservative agree on? Voting against a constitutional convention

“We disagree on many issues. But we… urge Alaskans to vote against Proposition 1.”

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Down to the wire: Be prepared before you vote

Remember your voice counts and all votes matter

Soldotna City Council member Justin Ruffridge. (Courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: We must refuse to reward ugly political tactics

With our vote we have to show that extremism and dishonesty do not win the day

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski attends a joint Soldotna and Kenai Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski attends a joint Soldotna and Kenai Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Lisa Murkowski represents everyday Alaskans

While working for Lisa, I witnessed her considerable command of the issues