By Larry Persily

An annual survey of Southeast Alaska business leaders shows they strongly disagree with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposals to significantly cut state spending for education and community services while paying a $3,000 individual Permanent Fund dividend this fall.

The Southeast Conference’s spring survey of business owners and managers in 25 communities attracted 320 responses — 28 from Skagway.

The respondents sharply disagreed with the governor’s proposals to reduce state funding for local schools, the University of Alaska, Medicaid services and the ferry system. They also oppose the governor’s legislative proposal to take away oil and gas property tax revenues from the North Slope, Fairbanks and Kenai Peninsula boroughs and give the money to the state.

Dunleavy’s campaign pledge to restore the Permanent Fund dividend to its full amount under the law, estimated at about $3,000 this fall, greatly increases the state budget deficit, prompting him to propose major spending cuts while rejecting any change in oil company taxes or taxes on Alaskans. 

Areawide, 66 percent in the Southeast Conference survey opposed any cuts in state funding for schools and the same percentage opposed any reductions to the state ferry budget. Of those who answered the survey, 58 percent opposed cuts to Medicaid spending, with 14 percent willing to go along with “a small amount” of Medicaid reductions in the state budget.

The 61-year-old Southeast Conference is comprised of business leaders and elected officials from Metlakatla to Skagway. The nonprofit organization released its annual survey results April 23.

“Our members recognize that these are challenging times and a fiscal solution must be achieved through a balanced approach of providing services with available revenues, said Southeast Conference Executive Director Robert Venables, of Haines.

The survey asked the question: “The State of Alaska has been struggling to develop a fiscal solution to the budgetary gap. Please rate your preferences regarding how you would like to see to the state achieve a balanced budget.”

To raise additional state revenues toward helping to balance the budget, 77 percent said they supported reducing the tax credits that North Slope oil producers use to reduce their production tax payments to the state. That 77 percent included respondents who support scaling back the tax credits from “to the fullest extent possible” to “a small amount.”

Most said they supported reducing the annual Permanent Fund dividend to help balance the budget, with 71 percent in favor of a dividend cut ranging from “the fullest extent possible” to “a small amount.” The survey did not put a dollar amount in the question.

A total of 63 percent said they supported some level of a state income tax, while 52 percent approved of a state sales tax.