Commonwealth North launches state budget website for Alaskans
Commonwealth North, an organization dedicated to informing Alaskans about public policy issues, launched a new website on Wednesday to assist Alaskans in better understanding the state’s fiscal and economic challenges.
The website allows users to make choices on ways to reduce spending and increase revenues to fill the state’s projected $1.3 billion (unrestricted general funds) budget gap.
“The problem is it’s looking like the state will be at least $1.3 billion in the hole for the same programs we had this year. That means they’ll have to spend a lot less or raise a lot more revenue, or both. There will be no easy answers, only hard choices,” states Commonwealth North’s explainer video on the website.
The budget gap, explains the video, is due to a combination of factors including the long-term decline in oil production and prices. Over the past decade, general fund revenue from oil averaged around $4 billion, according to Commonwealth North. This year, general fund revenue from oil is less than $1 billion.
This reduction in revenue, a lack of state savings, and the tension between funding the dividend and state services has created a complicated fiscal landscape.
Through the website, those wishing to offer their perspective on balancing the budget can weigh in on 28 different questions related to revenue and spending. Each choice is used to update a running calculator, reflecting the impact of each choice on the state budget gap.
Increases to corporative income taxes, commercial fisheries taxes, oil and gas taxes, mining taxes, and fuel taxes are all included in the revenue generating options.
Other options include the creation of a state income tax, a state sales tax, or a state lottery.
The survey also asks Alaskans about their spending priorities with questions related to K-12 funding, Medicaid, transportation, Senior Benefit Payments, the Permanent Fund Dividend, and public safety.
Under the “mental health and substance misuse” category, the budget tool offers several options. The state currently awards $11 million to organizations to provide substance misuse and mental health services. The website gives an option to increase grants by 50% (taking $5.5 million out of the budget), reducing grants by 50% (saving $5.5 million), eliminating the grants entirely, or maintaining the current investment.
Under Medicaid, the tool gives options for rolling back expansion and dropping coverage (saving $19 million) as well as eliminating optional Medicaid services (saving $239 million).
According to the website, the submitted budget choices will be shared with the governor and state legislature to assist with their decision making during the upcoming legislative session.