As a budget crisis loomed, the state of Alaska was scheduled to shut down on July 1. The Division of Motor Vehicles, Alaska Ferries and 2.5 million fish housed at state hatcheries, according to a list released by Gov. Bill Walker, were all in danger.
On June 22, however, the Alaska State Legislature passed a budget, effectively funding the state for another year. Concern by the public still exists on whether or not Alaska’s budget troubles have been resolved by a seemingly hastily passed budget bill.
Morgan Hartley, Moira Pyhala and Catherine Schoessler are political science majors at UAA, and proposed their own possible solutions on preventing the legislative standoff that occurred in Juneau this spring and summer.
Hartley says that creating a “pie in the sky budget” would be the best way to start to see just how short on funding the state is.
“For starters, I would start by creating a budget that includes all necessary programs including increases to those that have been cut in the past, including but not limited to the department of transportation and various educational institutions.” Hartley said. “This would ideally correct the misconception that our current deficit projections create. They show primarily the difference between this budget and the last rather than this budget and what the state needs.”
For the budget crisis to end, both parties in the legislature have to work together, which is something Schoessler says needs to happen.
“If I had to choose one solution it would be for our legislature to work outside of party lines and stop using compromise as a negative word,” Schoessler said. “The job of our legislature to work together to find the best possible solution for Alaskans and I believe that having two parties working against each other is not the way to achieve that goal.”
“There really is no easy answer, so hopefully our state legislation is able to work together in order to create possible solutions that will benefit Alaskans altogether,” Pyhala said.
The State of Alaska runs on the money and energy brought in from oil. If the oil business is slow, it means less money for the state. Possible solutions discussed by the students were increasing the tax on oil companies or switching to renewable energy.
“I want to reevaluate the tax credit system for oil and gas companies because these companies should be paying taxes before Alaskans or especially if Alaskans are paying taxes,”Schoessler said. “I think that the investments made from the PFD fund could be invested in Alaskan energy companies even though that may not yield the highest profit at the moment but that would help boost local companies and help Alaska develop state of the art technologies that could be shared or sold else where.”
Cutting the PFD or eliminating it all together was a view shared by all three students. On June 14, the House approved the increase of the PFD to $2200, but on June 22 the House-Senate subcommittee settled on $1,100 dividends for this year. The House also passed a proposal to levy a state income tax, something that the students think could be a possible idea to add compromise to the budget crisis.
“What I would say regarding the income tax is that a pr campaign could have been done to warm Alaskans up to the idea,” Hartley said. “The majority of people do not realize that state taxes are a federal tax write off. This means more money for Alaska and less for Washington which I believe is an idea most Alaskans are friendly too.”
“I think that the capping of the PFD in order to preserve it for the long run was a good idea, I am not sure that most Alaskans fully understand what was done and how it actually affects them,” Schoessler said.
In the end, is no perfect way to solve the problems occurring in the state legislature.
“I can’t pretend that I know the completely correct answer or that any one idea will magically solve all the state’s budget issues,” Schoessler said. “In the end, we are going to need multiple solutions that work together to help us out of this hole we have dug for ourselves.”