Dunleavy hopes to strip Alaska voters of power to enact taxes by initiative

The words “predatory tax” keep popping up during the Koch Network/Dunleavy budget meetings when state officials talk about Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan to prohibit Alaska voters from raising taxes through the initiative process.

The Koch Network, the oil industry and every other industry would love to see the Constitution amended so that a citizen initiative to raise taxes or enact a new tax would not become effective unless the Alaska Legislature signed off on it.

It would be one way of making it difficult or nearly impossible to raise oil taxes, fish taxes, mining taxes, etc.

Why would Dunleavy want to reduce the power of Alaska voters in this way?

During the Koch/Dunleavy sales pitch in Anchorage,, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson said the state doesn’t want a “predatory tax” on business.

“So for industry, we want predictability for them so that they can come and invest in Alaska without having to worry about the risk that Alaska will continue to spend like crazy and then decide to pay for that spending through a predatory tax on industry,” he said.

"If the people by initiative create a new tax, which they can, it will only be effective" if the Legislature approves it, he said.

The problem is that a predatory tax is in the eye of the beholder.

Dunleavy, Clarkson and the Koch Network view each and every tax as predatory, even if most Alaskans see room for new taxes as a reasonable way to pay for public services. Instead of protecting Outside businesses, the state should be preserving the rights of Alaskans.

In 2006, Alaska voters approved a cruise ship tax that the industry believed was predatory. In 2014, voters approved a marijuana tax.

I wouldn’t be surprised if an oil tax initiative is in our future, a measure that no doubt would be denounced as predatory by the Dunleavy administration and the Koch Network.

One way of heading that off would be to take away an important power from Alaska voters. The Dunleavy plan to do just that is contained in a subsection of Senate Joint Resolution 4, a measure that would require legislative approval and voter approval to enact or raise any statewide tax.

Alaskans should not surrender their ability to enact tax policy through the initiative process.

And there is no reason to ban the Legislature from raising taxes on its own, unless the intention is to cripple government services, which seems to be what the Koch Network and Dunleavy would like.

We have a representative form of government in which 60 legislators and the governor are called upon to set public policy on taxes. the state budget and state services, acting on behalf of all Alaskans.

Tradeoffs have to be recognized and dealt with, along with the natural tension over how to pay for services. None of these matters can be dealt with in isolation, which is why the Constitution does not need Dunleavy’s amendment.


Dermot Cole6 Comments