Out There

Our Alaska-Sized Budget Deficit

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on April 4, 2016

Alaska is the land of over-the-top superlatives.  Mind numbing record low temperatures.  Not just the biggest state, but the state so big we could cut it in half and Texas would be the 3rd biggest state!  The state with more coastline than the other 49 states combined!  The highest peak in the 50 states!  The Aleutians with their preposterous winds.  The jaw-dropping salmon runs, volcanic activity, earthquakes, northern lights, you get the idea.  In the same vein, we now have the amazing Alaska budget deficit!

The short version is that the pipeline is carrying less and less crude oil as the legacy fields on the north slope are getting depleted, and couple that with oil at $30 per barrel, and you get a massive deficit.  Just a few years ago oil was over $100 per barrel and the state was flush with cash and spending as much as $8 billion per year.  As the price dropped, cuts have been made to the point that the current state budget is around $5.5 billion (with revenue of around $1.8 billion), and next year’s budget may be as low as $4.1 billion if the conservative state legislature has it’s way.  But the state is projected to bring in only $1.2 billion in revenue.  Not good.

Many have pointed out the obvious:  There is no way the legislature can cut their way out of this mess.  Not that they aren’t trying.  Alaska is a notoriously conservative, anti-tax state.  No state sales tax, and no state income tax since it was abolished in 1980.  Residents have become so accustomed to getting something for nothing that most are refusing to accept reality now.

You can read much more about this here and here and here and here and here and many others if somehow that doesn’t slake your thirst.  From that last link (The Atlantic), “But Alaskans are fiercely protective of their checks, and of their state’s savings. This might be the most tight-fisted state in the union.”  And “But for the time being, Alaskans seem to want to hang on to the good old days for as long as they can, scrimping and saving despite having billions in the bank.”  Yup.

I took part in an exercise that challenges Alaskans to balance the budget themselves using an online simulator, at plan4alaska.com.  You can view my balanced budget here.  If you want to take a stab at it, go to plan4alaska.com and click on “take the challenge” at the top.  I don’t want to come off as self-righteous, but I have never been able to get my head around why my fellow Alaskans so resent the idea of paying their share for the cost of government.  The plan I went with is pretty similar to the governor’s plan, calling for a state income tax of 10% of the federal tax (I believe the governor is seeking something like 7%).  For Tammy and I using our 2014 taxes as a real world example, the 10% would come out to about $650, or less than 1% of our total income.  (If you need a primer on the difference between marginal tax rate and effective/average tax rate read this or this)  The $650 in my 2014 example equates to less than $2 per day, for schools for our kids, airport maintenance here in Kasigluk, the court system, etc.  So maybe this makes me a crazy liberal, but I consider that a bargain at under $2 per day.  This is a little disingenuous though as my plan also calls for a 3 or 4% sales tax which would almost certainly take more of our money than the income tax would.

Regarding that link in red above (this article) I just have to comment.  The headline states:  “Alaska Senate leaders: We’re not getting into ‘the tax business'”

Really? Senate leaders, let me tell you what business you ARE in.  You are in the business of running a state government.  As a part of this business, money comes in and out.  You are in charge of making sure the revenue keeps up so the state has the money to pay for the expenses.  And state revenue is collected, for the most part, in the form of TAXES.  You can quibble over semantics if you wish, but the fact is that our existing state income is already in the form of taxation levied on corporations, and taxes on resources such as barrels of oil, as well as on the fishing and mining industries.  So you ARE, actually, in “the tax business.”  You always have been. You know it, we all know it, so drop the games and do what is right for the state.

The reason there is some urgency here is that the “sovereign wealth concept” really only works if you have a large enough principle to earn interest with.  If we choose to kick this down the road and burn $4B in savings every year, we are eating the golden goose.  We should be smart enough, humble enough, and forward thinking enough to pay a little now so everyone profits big-time down the road.

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Prediction Foolishness

Posted in baseball, fun, Uncategorized by Pete on April 4, 2016

Today was opening day for a few teams, and my beloved Mariners start out tomorrow in Texas, when King Felix will dethrone Cole Hamels, Adrian Beltre, and the rest of the Texas Ranger lineup.  As spring training winds up, all of the major media outlets put out their predictions for which teams will make the postseason.  Every year these kind of make me crazy, and there are a few common picks that I disagree with and I think I should post my contrary predictions.  And this year I’m doing it.  For example, everyone picked the Nationals last year to win the NL east.  As I recall something like 54 of 54 people at ESPN picked the Nats to win the NL east.  The problem is, let’s say a team is 60% likely to win a division.  Well then of course everyone should pick them to win, but then when you see *all* the experts picking them to win, it makes that team appear to be far more dominant than they really are.  And it pushes me toward being a contrarian and picking the teams noone else is picking but who still have a real shot.  Which is a great way to miss on almost every prediction except 1 or 2 that noone else made.  Soooo, we’ll see how this goes.

To start with, you can see USA Today’s predictions here, or what the heck I can paste in this  handy graphic:  

Quibbles – The Angels finishing over Seattle?  I see Anaheim as a 4th place team at best, and Oakland may finish ahead of them.  They have the best player of this generation, or maybe ever, surrounded by bad players.  Richards can be a good pitcher, but the rest of the starters look to be poor.  And in the lineup Pujols is a shell of his former self and is probably their 2nd best hitter.  I could see them losing 90 with Trout, and 100 if he gets hurt.  I see Houston as the clear favorite in the west, and Texas and Seattle have a high degree of volatility in their possible outcomes.  The Rangers could be undone by the back end of their rotation, especially before Darvish comes back.  Seattle has so many eggs in the Cano & Cruz baskets, and those players are aging and at some point the production will really start to decline.  Cruz was so far above his career line last year, it is almost a given that he will massively decline this year.  However, Cano looks primed for a bounceback year after getting over his health issues from last year, and those 2 things might be a wash, statistically.  If pressed I’ll pick Seattle to finish 2nd in the west, and yes my objectivity here is hopelessly compromised.  I’m putting the Astros at like 89 wins and the M’s at 86 and Texas at 85.  Specific enough?  And 3 or 4 wins apart really means it’s anyone’s division to win, especially if injuries crop up, or one of the team goes 15 games over .500 in 1-run games or some other fluky thing.

Over in the AL Central, I will admit that this is a difficult division to predict, but I would take Cleveland or the Twins before the White Sox, though I do think the southsiders will be in the mix to the end and have a real shot at winning it.  And I’m picking the Tigers to finish at the bottom with the Royals (yes, last years champs).  When I say the bottom I mean around .500 in what is a very deep division (no really bad teams).  The Tigers strike me as a brittle, top-heavy team that could win 90 games if everything goes right, but it is the very rare season in which everything goes right like the 2001 116-win Seattle Mariners.  I think the whole division will win 80-something games.  If forced to go with 1 team I’ll take the Twins.  Tons of young talent there.  Sano is a monster.

In the AL East I think USA today has the O’s and the Yanks winning too many games.  I guess one theme with my picks is I’m very leery of what I perceive to be the older, more injury prone teams, or the “stars and scrubs” rosters that carry a lot of risk in 1 or 2 great players, especially as those players age.  I see the Yankees falling down to like 74 wins this year, and the O’s to a record of 69-93.  So who do I like in the east?  I like all 3 of the other teams, but I’m going to go with Tampa.  I told you I like to be a contrarian.  They have the pitching depth and just enough offense.  I’m optimistic about Brad Miller.  Those guys really know how to do more with less.  I’ll take Toronto 1 game behind them, and Boston 1 game behind Toronto.  90, 89, and 88 wins.

OK, it’s after 1 am and I’m not as much of an NL guy so let’s speed this up.  I’m *agreeing* with USA today’s NL east predictions!  Not just because I’m sleepy but I do like the Nats over the Mets this year.  It’s kind of silly that almost everyone picked the Nats this year, then they all go bleeting over to the Mets side after the Mets did well.  We so easily overreact to *recent* events and give those events too much weight in our analysis.  The Nats have Harper, and I think Rendon can bounce back, they have good pitching.  The Mets have pitchers who throw hard and get a lot of Ks.  They are good pitchers.  But I don’t particularly love their bullpen or their lineup.  Plus they have the Wilpons as owners (terrible reputation) and it’s always nice to be able to root against those guys.

I can quibble with the NL Central.  In my biggest upset pick I’m going with the Pirates to break through at last.  Of course the Cubs are better on paper.  That is why everyone is picking them.  They have the best front office int the game probably.  Awesome young talent all over the place, yada yada yada.  But everyone is picking them, so I’m going with the pirates.  I’ll admit that it’s probably like a 1:4 shot or something but it’s a legit shot.  Like any team there can be injuries, maybe a sophomore slump or two, anything can happen.  I don’t see it with St Louis.  I know they are a development factory and they just seem to manufacture good players out of thin air (bricks without straw!) – which by the way makes me crazy as a Mariners fan, an org that is the polar opposite of this in terms of player development.  We can ruin top 10 prospects if you give us a chance.  The Cardinals can make all stars out of guys off of the top 100.  Anyway I’m going with Pirates beating the Cubs in a one-game playoff to decide the division with 92-94 wins, and the Cards finishing with 85 wins.  I like their pick of the Reds with 61 wins, but I’ll pick the brewers to win 59 as they jettison all present talent for future lottery tickets.

In the NL West I’m going with Dodgers first, Dbacks and Giants tied for 2nd like 5 or 6 games back, and the Pads and Rockies way, way back in 4th and 5th place.  I guess the Rockies are a better team than the Padres, though USA Today disagrees.  They’re both bad, but the Rocks have Nolan Arenado, whose hitting is eclipsed only by his superlative fielding.  Both teams seem to lack much of a coherent plan, as far as I can tell.

Phew!  OK, 1:24.  Tammy is still at work planning her lessons for the week (man those teachers are all overpaid, amirite??), but even she won’t be there much longer so I must wrap this up.  Here is a link to the fangraphs staff predictions.  Kudos to them for the amount of variability in their picks.  None of the divisions are unanimous as the Nats were in years past on espn as I mentioned above.

Here are ESPN’s picks.  You can google more from SI, cbssportsline, nbc sports (hardball talk), etc etc.  In scanning these, I guess I’m most contrarian when I pick the Rays, Pirates, and Dodgers.  I’m kind of surprised that the Dodgers were picked by so few, at least at espn.  They can kind of buy their way out of any mistakes they make.  I knew the Rays and Pirates would be a little out there, and the Jays offense makes me waiver a little on the Rays pick but I shall not be, I shall not be moved.  Predictions are a fools errand.  And this is quite true when it comes to predicting outcomes in sports, where luck (or chance if you prefer) holds far more sway than most of those connected to the game want to admit.  Foolish or not, I’m crossing this errand off.  On to other items on the to-do list, like blogging about Alaska’s budget problems, filing our taxes, and prepping for class tomorrow.

 

SLP Caseloads

Posted in SLP, teaching, Uncategorized by Pete on March 14, 2016

I’m copying and pasting something from an SLP forum that I lurk on.  This is about caseloads and thought it was a good perspective and I wanted to be able to access it later so I’m pasting it in here.

I have posted this more than once. My rule of thumb is my caseload cannot exceed the number of hours I work over a week. So…if I work 38 hours, I can’t have more than 38 students. In that 38 hours, you are ALL entitled to 30 minutes of duty free lunch daily, and whatever planning time is given to the professional staff in your school. If you are working through lunch and planning time, you are NOT doing anyone any favors…and that includes the district and your students. You are allowing yourself to be taken advantage of.

So back to my rule of thumb. Where I worked, I had 30 minutes of lunch and 30 minutes of planning (planning was averaged out over the week…so really 2 1/2 hours per week) per day. So that left 28 hours in which to do everything else…therapy, testing IEP meetings, consults, classroom observations, report writing, meetings…you get the picture. Even with 28 hours to do all of that per week, I sometimes found myself stretched. When I read about caseloads that are double or triple what I had, I wonder just how FAPE is being met. And I wonder about the real quality of services…and I wonder just how quickly some of you will burn out.

It took me a while to get to the point I was at…that caseload of 30 or so students. Back in 1973 when I started, I had 13 schools and well over 100 students. It was a job that could NOT be done….period. I was at each school once every two weeks. The kids didn’t even know my name.

I immediately became a strong advocate for decent services for my students. NOTE…not for me…for my students. BUT in advocating for my students, I also advocated for myself, and our profession.

Our administration understood that the apraxic, low cognitive student with multiple issues…and multiple weekly consults…took much more of my time than even a multi sound artic case. And I needed to have the time for these things.

I understand that some folks don’t want to make waves because of job security and the like.

But read what you are saying….your admins expect you to make up time with students when you are absent for a day…but they also think it’s good quality services for you to be seeing 60 plus kids per week? I guess I think those are contradictory statements.

If they are REALLY worried about FAPE, they should get more staff…so ongoing services can be better.

Where I am, districts with these larger caseloads also have HUGE turnover in SLP staff…because folks simply move on to districts where the working conditions are better. And yes…that sometimes means a huge cut in pay. But I know a few people who went from having over 75 on their caseloads to under 40 and also lost over $6000 a year in salary. They say…it was well worth the reduction in salary to be able to provide a quality service to their students.

As a profession, we need to stand up and be counted. Do the special ed teachers in your district see 60 or 75 kids per week? How about OT and PT? If you are in a primary school….what classroom has 60-100 kids?

Please…advocate for quality services for your students. And for heaven’s sake…stop short changing yourselves by working through lunch and planning times…and taking hours of work home nightly.

OK…off my soapbox.

-S

And someone replied with:

I think everyone can reply to this question but not much can be concluded.  Numbers do not reflect workload.  I think that is where administrators loose perspective on appropriate staffing.  So much goes into determining workload for any specialists.  Everything from severity of students to universal supports provided in a school system.  I personally could service 30 articulation kids over a couple of days with my eyes closed but give me 30 more involved students and the game changes.

We all need to advocate for reasonable workloads and numbers.  The amount of work, paperwork and meeting time that is required for each student also need to be taken into consideration.  I also find that administrators have little to no understanding of the process of language development nor how decreased language abilities impact academics.

This past year I published a book,  The School Speech Language Pathologist,  An Administrator’s Guide to understanding the role of the SLP in schools along with strategies to aid staffing, workload management and student success.  It’s just a start in educating administration.  Available on Amazon and through my publisher Booklocker.

I think it would also be interesting to know how much turnover occures because of workloads/caseloads that are too high an unmanageable.  My 30 years of experience can also state that staffing levels have not grown over the years but numbers have.  Think about that.

I didn’t write either of these but they are good food for thought, for me at least.  I’ve wrestled since before I became an SLP with the service delivery model used in the Alaska bush (at least in my home district of LKSD) and this applies to that issue.

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Carbon Tax

Posted in politics by Pete on September 11, 2015

I’m not going to actually analyze this giant issue here and now, but an article in the ADN today caught my eye.  It cites a study that found that rural Alaskans would “benefit financially from a proposed national program designed to increase energy efficiency and move away from fossil fuels by charging a fee for carbon and returning dividends to households.”

Specifically:

Dividend payments to Alaska households in the study area would total $5.9 million the first year, which would be $2.2 million more than the cost of the fee. “Given the data we have, people in rural Alaska would fare well,” Colt said.

And the counter argument:

One important caveat found in the study is that while most residents would get more in dividends than they would pay in fees, a minority would not. “That is a concern with every kind of assistance program,” Colt said.

Although I’d heard of market-based approaches to the climate/carbon emissions problem before, I was intrigued enough to check out the org who paid for the study.  Their website has this banner at the top of the front page:

CCL banner

Nice.  And the more I think about it, the more I’m persuaded.  At first blush I like this plan.  I realize that as a middle to upper middle class person using lots of electricity in a village that gets most of its power from inefficient diesel generators, I probably will pay more than I would receive.  But the economist in me believes that an incentive-based approach is the most effective way to get everyone (and utilities) to pay attention and actually change their behavior.  Isn’t it preferable to intense regulation by the EPA that is the most likely alternative??  Doing nothing just kicks the ever-increasing costs and problems down the road to future generations – foolish.  Am I wrong here?  Feel free to comment if you can state your case reasonably with a minimum of a few sentences.

One other thing to note is the comments section at the bottom of that ADN article.  Classic.  In a depressing, mind-numbing way.  Way to think things through and put others first guys.

drug-related death threats in Bethel

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on May 4, 2015

Lame.

The T-Word!

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on April 8, 2015

Kudos to Rep Paul Seaton and Rep Edgmon for their courageous proposal to bring back the state income tax, and to Senator Bishop for his “education tax” proposal (which I don’t love because it seems to hit the working poor way harder than upper income folks, but at least he isn’t just putting his head in the sand).  These guys are probably getting all kinds of grief from Alaska anti-tax fanatics, but as covered ad nauseum here and elsewhere, just cutting spending isn’t going to take care of a $5B deficit.  Not just politically unlikely but as the state budget analyst David Teal presented, “Alaska could shutter every state agency and still have a $1 billion deficit.”  And yet, our (republican) Senate president says “This session is the session for reduction,” Meyer said. “Next session could be something else.”  Short-sighted, spineless, self serving leadership.  Not just the Rs – many democrats criticized it as well, and even the supporters in the legislature asked that their names not be revealed at this time.

sickness

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on April 6, 2015

This is pretty stomach-turning, but I don’t feel like it’s gotten enough attention.

Charges against Gregory of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest were dropped in exchange for him pleading guilty to harassing Reid. Brown, the attorney for Gregory, is pursuing a motion to withdraw the plea because of the new video evidence.

The city of Bethel thinks it has a financial crunch now??  If a jury ever saw this, the city would get crushed, I would think.  A drunk man was “harassing” an officer?  We can’t see what happened before this, but all I saw was a cop way excessively beating up someone who looked totally unable to defend himself.  Also, maybe there was a kick or two in there?  Like at the 2:19 mark.  Not sure.  Anyway it’s not hard to see why there was a dislocated shoulder and broken collarbone.  (TANGENT:  Also this is the same city of Bethel that is considering whether to allow two liquor stores to open up, driving down the cost and increasing the supply of immediately available alcohol.  That is a whole other post or many posts, but these sorts of behaviors related to public drunkenness are what make the increased tax revenue look like not such a great deal for the city.  The extra costs associated with extra drinking may well dwarf the extra revenue.  I’m for Bethel either going DRY, or to a package store, city-run liquor store with no more legal importation by anyone else.  One-stop shop that allows the public to customize the rules of who they can sell to, and how much you can buy.  Not that many Bethel voters give a flip about what I or other villagers think.)

Also the fact that the victim didn’t lawyer up for damages in the first place is likely the result of the non-litigious nature of the Yup’ik culture that prefers not to press charges or sue, and is very respectful of authority.  This gets taken advantage of by the entities that provide services in this region – where lawsuits, or the mere threat of lawsuits, would normally be a corrective deterrent keeping those institutions from becoming too self-serving, that seems to be sometimes missing here and we’re all the poorer for it, in my opinion.

Anyway, this is a downer of a post, but I’m glad the video is seeing the light of day, despite the police department’s apparent efforts, so I thought I’d help shout it from the rooftops so to speak.

to cover it up.

Another twist in Bethel’s history with alcohol

Posted in grim stuff, politics by Pete on March 30, 2015

Remember in 2009 when Bethel voted to go from damp to wet, ostensibly because they were upset that Sarah Palin had pushed to cut the monthly importation limits (20 drinks per day) allowed per person in damp villages in half, among other things?

“Hawkins gathered names from friends at his backyard steam house. To him, the vote to go wet is about more than the failed attempt to tighten liquor limits. The problem, he thinks, is that lawmakers in Juneau have imposed restrictions on the city for more than 20 years, making them slap “ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE” labels on their luggage, putting their names in a database of booze buyers and trying to chop liquor limits without asking voters.

Quote is from this article from September 2009, and that article was originally in the ADN but can’t find it now, but prompted this post.  A similar quote from that post, about the same Bethelite (Tom Hawkins) is this one:
“We want the citizens of Bethel to be able to choose what they want or don’t want on these alcohol issues. We don’t want the state to continue to flog us with these rules,” said Tom Hawkins, 60.”
Also in the article was the widely-circulated argument by the wet-vote proponents that there would never be legal alcohol sales in Bethel.  That the move to go wet was just about the airline sticker, and keeping government out of our business, etc etc.  I remember several of the organizers going on record that they would be the first in line to oppose anyone who attempted to get a liquor license to sell booze in Bethel.  They stressed that this wasn’t a vote about whether alcohol should be able to be sold in Bethel, just about whether we should allow the government to require the sticker on our checked boxes of booze on Alaska Air, and whether we should allow them to monitor how many bottles we were ordering from Anchorage each month.  See this quote from the same article as the first quote:

“Hawkins says he and other petitioners would be the strongest opponents if the city tried to start selling booze.”

And

“Opening a liquor store is a “no-no in my” book, Trantham said. He said he’d fight it.”

And

“The ballot proposition would wipe away the shipping restrictions altogether. Westlake, one of the petitioners who put the question to a vote, says it’s a smaller-government thing. “I don’t want the state involved in our day-to-day life.”  The state’s push to halve limits fueled the backlash, he said.”

So now we get…the rest of the story.  Bethel Native Corporation lost it’s anchor tenant at their gigantic, beautiful building across the street from the hospital when Swanson’s mysteriously and without warning went out of business (which could probably be the subject of a very long series of posts in and of itself – crazy dysfunction on many levels, it appears).  BNC is clearly desperate to collect rent from someone, anyone, and in order to best serve their shareholders…they are pursuing opening a liquor store.  Meetings before city council have begun, and AC is planning on opening their own store too.  But I haven’t heard anything from Hawkins or Trantham or any of the people from 2009 who said they would be the “strongest opponents” on the issue.  When I heard about the liquor store opening, I immediately recalled those promises and had to google it to find what was reported at the time.  And maybe they have spoken up recently in opposition to the liquor store, I really don’t know, but if they have it hasn’t gotten coverage.  I think I’m going to give them a phone call and see what they have to say, 6 years later.  Might have to record it.  : – )

OK, so where do I stand?
I have written a lot of posts over the years on this issue – a byproduct of having strong feelings about it, which is a byproduct of working with FAS kids, comforting freaked out kids in our home village who have fled their house, and other alcohol-fueled heartache.  I get that you can’t stop people from doing what they want to do.  But actually, what the majority of people here in Kasigluk want to do, is have no alcohol available.  They voted.  As did almost all of the 52 villages for which Bethel is the hub.  Think about it – if Bethel was DRY, where would the booze come from?  (newbies remember Bethel and all of western AK is not on the road system)  Suitcases and the mail.  And homebrew.  And the price would skyrocket.  Which means less people drinking.  That’s a fact.  Just as higher cigarette taxes result in fewer people trying smoking.  If the price of illegal booze triples, there is simply less to go around.  So there is some frustration on my end that Bethel voters (mostly out-of-towners) continually give folks in the villages the finger, so to speak, in regard to this issue.
The only other option I could maybe get behind is the “package store” concept the troopers were promoting many years ago.  Basically it would be a large liquor store in Bethel, and it would be the ONLY alcohol option.  No more flying it in and picking it up at ACE air cargo.  And the package store requires picture ID, and tracks your purchases, and obviously won’t sell if your ID indicates you are from an outlying village.  This doesn’t solve everything either, but would at least make it a little tougher on the bootleggers.  Leave a comment if you like – but note that I screen them and it needs to be constructive and not abusive in order to get published.

The “Make Everyone Mad” Fiscal Plan

Posted in politics by Pete on March 19, 2015

The state of Alaska is currently in an economic free fall due to a precipitous drop in the price of oil.  This seems to happen every 15 years or so and the symptoms are becoming a little familiar.  Right now we’re at this part of the ride:

roller-coaster-scared

To take the metaphor a little further – the folks who can see what is ahead are FREAKED, while a bunch of other people are still just “enjoying the ride” without a clue about what lies ahead.  I got this pic from here:  https://bettiesparties.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/roller-coaster-scared.jpg

Or if you prefer:

Anyway the Alaska Dispatch has produced a 3-part take on the current fiscal situation that gives a good overview of the historical context of our situation, and the difficult political realities that surround any of the actual solutions.  The piece by Dermot Cole includes these quotes:

Legislators and the Parnell administration signed off on the 2015 the budget last spring, portraying it as a model of conservatism, fully confident oil would stay near $100 a barrel.

While they ran for office last summer and fall, no one warned of oil prices in the $55 range or that a collapse was coming.

The state budget analysis did not include oil price predictions below $90, which seemed reasonable at the time. It’s apparent now they were not.

It’s no surprise some lawmakers have invested more time in marijuana regulations and ending daylight saving time than in preparing for the likelihood that, if oil prices don’t rise, the next step will be a giant one off the fiscal cliff.

It’s easier to fume about federal overreach or hope the problem will just go away than fill a budget hole that amounts to about $5,000 per Alaskan per year.

$5,000 per Alaskan per year!!  The actual total figure is $3.5 billion.  To put that in some context, a state income tax would raise something like $350 million.  And no amount of cuts gets the state anywhere near a balanced budget.  At this point, really nothing is being done other than lots of small cuts that probably are penny-wise and pound foolish in the long run (from that last link, cutting the parents as teachers program seems the dumbest given that the program costs well under $1m per year to operate).

“Some suggest elected officials will wait until the state falls over the cliff into the ‘fiscal gap’ because only then will enough elected officials believe they have constituent support to access previously unused revenue sources such as the Permanent Fund earnings or to reinstate a personal income tax,” Commonwealth North said in a 2007 report, reflecting a sentiment shared by any number of Alaskans over the years.

And I believe that those elected officials will NOT pursue the income tax very seriously, instead just taking money from the permanent fund, which amounts a massively regressive tax on the poor.

The UPSET plan

Sometimes the only fair plan is the one that makes EVERYONE mad. While it is true that taking from the PFD is regressive and hurts the poor the most, others will argue that an income tax is unfair to the rich and hardly affects the poor at all. Which is why we need BOTH.  And more.

  • Understand that we all have to pitch in to work toward a better future for our state.
  • Personal income tax – The income tax as it existed before I believe was a simple 10% of whatever you paid the feds that year so it takes about 30 seconds to figure out.  I believe this would be about $350M, and even more importantly would get people more invested in state government instead of just viewing everything as an automatic benefit without cost.
  • Sales Tax – Add a 5% tax statewide on everything other than food.  No idea what this would raise – probably something similar to the income tax.
  • Earnings from the permanent fund.  Use say 20% of the fund earnings for current year spending (40% to the fund, 40% used as payouts).  This amounts to more than $1B most years.
  • Take 15% from the budget of every state department/program, rather than picking and choosing which to eliminate and which to leave unscathed.  I know some programs can’t be cut for legal reasons so not sure what this would save – probably something just under a billion.

The only really fair way is to hit all of us at once rather than trying to get it all from one source that affects one population disproportionately more than the others.  This is all just “back of the napkin” stuff but probably makes our 3.5B deficit something more like a $1b deficit.  Of course you are free to quibble with the particular numbers but you get the general idea.  Obviously we all hope the price of oil goes back up, but until then something should be done.  Now.

Alaska Politics as Usual

Posted in politics by Pete on March 19, 2015

Sigh.  This isn’t that big of a deal, but wasn’t it just a few years ago that the FBI did it’s big sting operation in our state capitol?  How quickly we forget.  The Alaska state legislature is apparently about to change the deadline for filing annual financial disclosure reports from March 15 to May 15.  Allegedly so that the date lines up better with tax day.  Note that the legislative session runs from Jan 20 to April 19, so that the new date is almost a month after everyone has left Juneau.  Les Gara has it right:

“The public is entitled to know what potential conflicts we have, what business interests we own, during session when the bills are pending — not after session, after it’s too late,” said Gara.

If the concern really has to do with tax day, why not change to April 15, when they’re at least still (barely) in session?  And the truth is that most people have done their taxes by March 15 anyway.  Most people have all the financial information needed to do it by the end of January – March 15th was not an impractical burden.  So it’s tough not to be cynical here.  It seems that the politicians don’t like having people going through their reports and identifying conflicts of interest during the session.  Real-time accountability and transparency are good, but this reduces both.  Maybe we should just get rid of the filing requirement altogether?  Or require a filing 10 years after they quit the legislature?  Sigh.