After a quick trip to Juneau early this week that didn’t result in any action by the Legislature, House District 36 Rep. Dan Ortiz returned to Ketchikan for a town-hall-style meeting with constituents Thursday evening.
Ortiz is unaffiliated with a party, and is a member of the minority caucus. He started the meeting with a little background on why the Legislature is stuck right now.
Ortiz said some minority members, including himself, didn’t like how parts of the state operating budget turned out. It passed without their approval, but the majority now needs support from the minority in order to dip into reserves to cover the budget’s approximately $3 billion deficit.
“We have enough people in the minority to say, ‘OK, we’re not going to give you those votes until you address some of these issues,’” he said. “That’s why there’s kind of this standoff and this stalemate, if you will.”
Ortiz said he’d like to change some budget numbers, to reduce cuts made to public education and the Alaska Marine Highway System, specifically.
In addition to the current budget issue, the town hall meeting focused on potential future revenue options, such as dipping into the Permanent Fund Dividend or different types of statewide taxes. Ortiz asked what people thought about those ideas.
Anne Lucas asked how much money a new tax actually would bring in.
“Say we did a state sales tax. What would be the formula?” she said. “You’d have to hire people, you’d have to have someone to collect the taxes. And the same for an income tax.”
Ortiz agreed, and said that’s partly why some prefer taking revenue from the PFD.
“Let’s say we do something like, we cap the Permanent Fund at $1,000. This last year each of us received $1,800, so if we capped it at $1,000, proponents say, ‘That’s real easy, you just cap it, then you take all that money and put it back into the operating budget,’” he said. “There (aren’t) any collection duties.”
Bill Auger questioned whether people were ready to give up some of their dividend.
“Do you think that they’ve felt the pain enough to where they would accept it?” Auger said. “At this point in time, the Perm Fund is an entitlement. ‘Don’t touch my entitlement,’ even though the Perm Fund really was set up to back fill for the day that we didn’t have the oil revenue to pay for the state.”
And back on the tax issue, former Rep. Bill Williams of Saxman gave a little historical perspective.
“I went through this tax issue when I was in the Legislature,” he said. “Back then, it couldn’t help that much. I don’t think it’s going to help that much today.”
Williams said it’s going to take more than taxes to make up the state’s $3 billion budget gap.
Ortiz agreed, and warned that this year’s cuts – while still not resolved – are just the first round. There will be additional cuts next year, and everyone needs to prepare for that reality.