Government Budget 2017

Contributed by Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As I return home from my first six months as a freshman legislator, I want to take a moment to share my thoughts and concerns on the growth of government and the need to reduce this growth. 

As a new legislator, I worked hard to learn proper decorum and about the legislative process of how bills are crafted and moved through the committee process. 

The operating budget is one of the most important responsibilities for a legislator and the legislative body to work on and not a job to take lightly. I spent many hours studying the operating budget from the last five years through the audited (CAFR) Comprehensive Accounting Financial Report, so I could compare it with our present budget, and found that most of the reductions have come from the capital budget and not the operating budget as many have proclaimed.  

I have also heard time and time again that our state operating budget has been “cut to the bone” and that we “need to tax our residents to bring in more revenue.”  A gas tax, an income tax, a sales tax and more! Sadly, what I am not hearing is the most important question of: “How can we reduce the size of government to an efficient and accountable level?” 

I can attest to the fact that combing through the finance sub-committee process and studying and analyzing department after department that the state has not cut to the bone and there are still operating costs that can be reduced to the tune of millions. What I repeatedly heard in the sub-committee work from the Democrat members was that, “We needed to tax more so that we could increase the number of state employees, state programs and to have more money to spend.”   

For an example, efforts were made by Department of Transportation to outsource engineering and design work, which would have saved the state millions of dollars. This effort came to a swift halt when state unions sent their leaders and lobbyists into committees’ and legislators’ offices to voice their objection and resistance to bring this idea to a quick halt; unfortunately, it worked. 

During key debate on the House floor this session, we had identified nearly $300 million in reductions to the operating budget only to be shot down on every amendment brought forward. No compromise, no discussion, just the partisan 22-18 vote of no. After over 150 days in session, the final operating budget did make it to the House floor and I was a no vote as were my Mat-Su colleagues. In the end, the House Democrats would rather tax you than accept our well-thought-out amendments.

As we look at accountability in government, we must be assured that we are not taxing our citizens to a point that they are under increased hardship that forces them to make a choice of keeping their small businesses open or calling it quits to go on the state welfare system to make ends meet. The late Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall rightly noted, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” The more we tax hardworking Alaskans at the state and local level, the more we cause harm to the economy and to our families. 

We know that Alaska is still reeling from the recession that we are in. Mat-Su is faced with a 2016-2017 unemployment rate of 9.0% and the loss of over 3,000 North Slope jobs of which many were Mat-Su residents; our Valley residents and businesses are feeling the sting of this recession. Many are tightening their belts and fighting hard to make ends meet. Instead of hearing that government is going to tighten their belts too, government is proposing to tax you more through various forms of taxation, ie. a motor fuel tax, an income tax, sales tax and yes, half of your PFD!

It is time to right-size government and reduce operating costs. Raising taxes during a recession is highway robbery on hardworking Alaskans. I encourage you to say no to any increase in taxes until we see a right-sized government.