Alaska governor proposes state's first income tax in decades

Alaska governor proposes state's first income tax in decades

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has proposed instituting a personal income tax for the first time in 35 years as the oil-dependent state looks to plug a multibillion-dollar budget deficit amid chronically low prices.

In laying out his budget plan Wednesday, Walker moreover proposed using the fund that provides annual checks to most Alaskans to generate a stream of cash to assist finance state government. The plan would alter how dividends are calculated & mean lower checks, at least initially — 2016 payouts would be approximately $1,000 less than this year's.

The governor warned that if the state stays on its current track, drawing down on savings, the dividend is in danger of ending in 2020.

p>Alaska isn't alone among oil-producing states to experience complex times as oil prices stay low. But unlike states like Texas or Louisiana, Alaska has few other industries to make up the difference.

Walker's proposal moreover includes:

— Increases in alcohol & cigarette taxes.

— Additional budget cuts.

— Changes to the oil tax credit system, a huge budget item.

— Hikes to industry taxes including mining, fishing & oil.

The administration says the goal was to spread the burden as widely as possible & that even with the proposed increases, the tax burden on individual Alaskans would be among the lowest nationally.

Alaska has been using savings to balance its budget yet is blowing through its reserves at an estimated rate of $10 million a day. The state has been warned its bond rating could be lowered if it doesn't do more to address the deficit. A hit to the credit rating could increase the state's cost of borrowing & make it harder to finance a major gas project that Walker sees as critical to the state's financial future.

Alaska has long relied heavily on oil revenue. In recent years, it provided approximately 90 percent of the money available for lawmakers to spend. That's down to approximately 75 percent, the state Revenue department says.

Oil flow through the trans-Alaska pipeline peaked at approximately 2 million barrels a day in the late 1980s yet is averaging close to 505,000 barrels per day this year.

Alaska is one of seven states without an individual income tax, & it's the only state to have repealed an existing income tax, according to the Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy research organization. In 1980, after oil began coursing through the pipeline, the Legislature voted to repeal the income tax. Two years later, the first dividends were paid.

The income tax, as proposed, would generate approximately $200 million a year, according to the Walker administration.

Walker said he hopes Alaskans realize the severity of the state's fiscal situation. He said every Alaskan will find something in the plan they dislike, & he'll take any heat that comes with that.

The governor's plan focuses on harnessing the state's financial assets — including the $52 billion Alaska Permanent Fund — & moving away from the year-to-year volatility of budgeting based on oil revenue.

The permanent fund is a nest egg seeded with money from Alaska's oil wealth & grown through investments. It is constitutionally protected & can be used only for income-producing investments.

Earnings generated from the fund are used for inflation-proofing & paying the annual dividends. This year's check was $2,072 — paid to approximately 645,000 people — & was the largest ever. Over the past decade, which included the Great Recession, the check has been as low as $845.

While permanent fund earnings can be used for the state budget, legislators have been loath to go there for fear of being accused of "raiding" the fund.

Source: “Associated Press”