There is hard work ahead, say candidates
Senior citizens are “super voters.” I like that moniker. I am proud of that moniker. And in the spirit of wanting to know how our state candidates (incumbents and challengers) would address issues of importance to seniors of all stripes I sent out a questionnaire to elicit answers. What you read in the following is a summary of the state candidates’ responses to three questions.
If you would like to know the specifics of your candidate’s perspective, I urge you to call her or him directly.
“What is your view of how the legislature should deal with our current fiscal problems? Please give your reasoning.”
The consensus among all respondents was that spending has not declined to match the fall in oil revenues. We need a balanced, sustainable financial plan. We can do this without causing undue harm to our most vulnerable citizens. Above all we need an approach that is fair to all Alaskans.
Cutting spending: Cuts to government spending alone will not address the deficit. We need to institute a spending cap. We need to reduce spending on many previously started mega projects. But we should not make budget cuts so large as to cause an economic depression effectively balancing the budget on the backs of students, elders, disabled and retirees, candidates said.
Medicaid reform and criminal justice reform have the potential to reduce spending over the long term without harming Alaskans. Our budget situation did not occur overnight. We need a long-term perspective, candidates noted.
Increasing revenues: Resorting to new taxes as a sole source will not address the deficit. However before asking Alaska residents to assume additional financial burden we need to ensure our corporate partners are paying their fair share by eliminating oil tax credits (subsidies) costing the state $500 million per year and a production tax that provides no revenue when oil is below $70 per barrel.
Some candidates would increase the tax on our oil and mineral resources, arguing we are not getting our fair share of oil revenues. In 2012 our share was 35 percent from exported oil, or $8.5 billion. In 2015 it was a mere 8 percent, or $1.1 billion.
Once all other alternatives have been implemented it is suggested we include revenues such as a small progressive income tax imposed on Alaskans and those from elsewhere who work here; a statewide school tax; increased state tax on tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana; and increased tax on mining, fisheries and tourism.
Some candidates offered that the best way to stop money from leaving Alaska is to hire Alaskans.
PFD: Half of the Permanent Fund’s earnings go into savings. However, cutting dividends will mean less money for many low-income households that have come to rely on the income. Candidates said money is best kept in the hands of the people to be utilized by the families and communities who may have elders in great need. Moreover less money flowing through the economy at dividend time only reduces the multiplier effect.
“The populace of Alaska is as diverse as anywhere on the planet. We pride ourselves on our inclusiveness. However, it seems that we have diverged from our original intent: ‘One for all and All for One.’ We are now doing our very best to create ‘others’ in our midst by denying or eliminating equal rights for our LGBTQ Alaskans, promised benefits for our founders (elder Alaskans), services to our bush communities and Native Alaskans, a top-flight education for our Alaska students, equal opportunity for Alaskans of all shades. In the meantime we are giving a free ride to those who work here but do not live here and foreign corporations who do business here but take their profits elsewhere. How do you as a candidate for Alaska State Legislature plan to address these inequities? Do you think that the perspective of balancing the budget on the backs of those least able to afford cuts is in Alaska’s best interest? Do you envision other means of balancing the budget that have more long-term advantages and implications? Please give your reasoning.”
Many of our state candidates view the response to this question as an economic situation. The more we cut benefits to the ones who can least afford the loss and the more we shut down public services the greater the despair and desperation becomes in those who are impacted. Small government proponents and corporations divide us and make it easier to control us. Those affected are struggling with human needs such as rent, food for our families, etc., desperately preoccupied and thus unable to unite and have a voice in Alaska’s economic problem.
The answer our state candidates offer is a sustainable fiscal plan that serves and protects all Alaskans including the LGBTQ community, elder Alaskans, youth, bush communities and Alaska Natives. We need to bring the cost of energy down, provide consistent and adequate funding for public education, establish a reliable transportation network, support a strong retirement system, make quality affordable health care a priority, and protect equal rights for all Alaskans, they say. Whatever plan we choose must be fair to all Alaskans. When faced with any bill, the critical question is, “Does this help or harm Alaskans?”
“How do you plan to foster a less divisive, humane and more collaborative bi-partisan legislature?”
The candidates encourage inter-party dialogue structurally and socially. We should not vilify those with whom we do not agree. We should listen to others with the goal of understanding and take actions as the legislature that does not favor one class, group or belief over another. Good legislation is predicated on the art of compromise.
Some candidates emphasized that we need a “do something” legislature. The institution of binding caucuses is a problem, some argued. Our legislators should publically stake out their positions in advance of votes so that popular measures might advance more rapidly and that legislators’ reasoning would be made public beyond a simple ‘Yea’ or ‘Nay.’ We are all in this together. We are all Alaskans first.
I wish to thank all the state candidates who contributed to these findings. I am encouraged that those who responded had a real appreciation for the circumstances Alaska’s seniors of all ilks. As a citizen it is your responsibility to hold your state legislator responsible. You are part of the super voter cadre. Make your voice count.
Jan Carolyn Hardy is an Anchorage resident and Older Persons Action Group, Inc. board member.