Alaska lawmakers got a polite earful last week from residents over Governor Michael J. Dunleavy’s plan to take all of the fishery taxes from communities for state coffers instead of half which has been the policy for decades. That would mean a combined $29 million loss to fishing towns starting this October.  At a hearing of the Senate Community and Regional Affairs, 22 people testified against the proposal and outlined how it would devastate coastal Alaska.

Nils Andreassen, director of the Alaska Municipal League, began by outlining impacts to towns that would be hardest hit.

“The share of fish taxes is used to ensure sustainable communities. They are often contribute to general funds, operate and maintain ports and harbors, many of which the state transferred in neglect to municipalities 10 years ago, they support education hospitals public works, solid waste and replacing gaps in state capital investment, grants to local nonprofits.”

                        March 28-30 in Kodiak

Jon Erickson, City and borough manager of Yakutat, said the loss would likely close down its lone fish plant.

“What part of shutting down rural Alaska equates to Alaska is open for business.”

Pat Branson, City of Kodiak Mayor, called the tax loss a quick fix to a long-term problem.

“This proposed state budget affects every municipality and Alaskan and should have in-depth research and analysis before finding a quick fix of making major cuts as being the solution to a long-term problem of the state budget deficit. Local municipalities and even household budgets are not approached in this manner without dangerous effects. “This budget approach lacks the understand and awareness of the realities of living in a resource economy and in a geographically remote location.”   

Frank Kelty is mayor of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, the nation’s top fishing port for over two decades.

“Fisheries is our only industry and fish tax revenues make up 26% of our $31 million  general fund revenues, over $8 million annually. We use fish and sales taxes to pay our own way. We fund port and harbor upgrades, utility improvements, roads, schools, city facilities, local nonprofits which include services for women’s shelters and substance abuse to name a few.  If the state of Alaska takes away the share of fish taxes, who will step up to assist fishery dependent comms across Alaska with projects needed to support the seafood industry which is the economic engine of all fishery dependent communities? By taking dollars from comms that service the industry on a local level the impact will require  higher taxes imposed by municipalities.”

Shawn Dochtermann is a longtime Kodiak fisherman –

“The economic stability of every coastal comm and borough is at stake here. So if you’re looking for money to run the state why not revise SB 21, the oil subsidies to big oil that collect more profits per barrel than any other oil field in the world.  We fish hard and pay our taxes. We deserve our taxes to benefit our communities.”

Jeff Guard is a Cordova city council member –

“You in the senate and house took oaths to defend Alaskans. We are under attack and you have the power of the purse to defend us from these draconian budget cuts. We are just asking you to do your jobs.”   

Senator Click Bishop posed a question to Dept. of Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman.

 “Has there had been any communication with communities about the fish tax loss?”

Bruce Tangeman:  “Not by myself and I’m not sure what kind of communications have taken place by the governor’s office.”

Bishop asked if any analysis has been done on the secondary impacts from taking this money out of the municipalities.   Deputy Tax director, Brendan Spanos. 

“Our division has not done an analysis on that.”

Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson questioned Commissioner Tangeman –

“So does that include the fact that no economic analysis was done either?  Tangeman:  I believe you would be correct on that.”

Tangeman said the governor intends to share 50% of state alcohol tax revenues through a community assistance program to soften the loss of the fish taxes. Senator Bishop responded that those dollars are intended to assist people with addiction problems.

Senator Bishop posed a final question – 

“Is this bill a priority of administration?  Tangeman: Yes, it is.    

Fishermen Stosh Anderson of Kodiak closed with a haiku

“Fishermen pay tax,
Absconded by the government.
Infrastructure fails.”