By DAN FOX
On Oct. 23, the State Legislature is going into its fourth special session of the year to address public safety and revenue. One of the bills up for discussion would enact a flat wage tax, according to a press release from Governor Bill Walker’s office.
The administration is proposing a payroll tax of 1.5 percent of wages earned by Alaskans and non-resident workers, the release states. It would be capped at $2,200 or twice the previous year’s permanent fund dividend amount – whichever is the higher.
“My team and I have been meeting with majority and minority members of both the House and Senate for the past several months,” Walker said in the release. “We have cut more than 44 percent from state spending over the past four years, and drawn more than $14 billion from savings. We will continue to find efficiencies.
“With the downturn in oil prices, however, it’s clear that we must find a new source of revenue to pay for troopers, teachers, transportation and other essential services. We must end the uncertainty for a healthy economy.”
The proposal could potentially draw between $300-$350 million in revenues. Representative Sam Kito III said he is going to be looking at the bill closely, that he thinks there are opportunities with it, but that he wants to avoid putting an undue strain on Alaskans.
“I want to make sure that whatever we do is going to be sustainable in the long run, and does not adversely effect the lower-income Alaskans in our state,” Kito said in a phone interview.
In other statewide financial news, a budgeting issue has reduced the amount of money in the Alaska Marine Highway Fund for Fiscal Year 2018, which will result in that fund running out of money if action is not taken to remedy the situation. Such a fate, however, is the worst-case scenario, according to Kito.
“I just can’t imagine that anyone would want the Marine Highway System to stop operating at some point in this next year,” Kito said.
Kito said there are opportunities available to provide supplemental funding to the AMHS in an early budget bill during the start of the next legislative session, or by making a one-time appropriation to the fund.
“Those basic actions would solve the problem, and it will definitely be something that all the Southeast legislators are going to be paying attention to in a budget bill,” Kito said.
Kito will be in Skagway on Oct. 16 for a town hall meeting at the Klondike Gold Rush Visitor Center Auditorium from 4:30-6 p.m. He will also hold individual meetings on Oct. 17 from 10:30 a.m.-noon in the Borough Assembly chambers.