by Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon
April 28th, 2017: On Tuesday evening the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee took public testimony on HB 115—the Education Funding Act—and afterward much was made of the fact that a majority of the more than 100 people who called in were in favor of this tax for schools. The testimony went on until after 10:00 p.m., and many people waited hours to put their views on the record.
While a marathon run of public testimony might not exactly qualify as a scientific sample of the entire Alaskan electorate, the stats were heartening. But what impressed me even more than the numbers was the tone and considerateness of those Alaskans in support of the bill.
Testifiers spoke of their willingness to personally contribute to the most fundamental and important of state services—the education of the next generation of Alaskans. I was stirred by their sense of caring and responsibility for the wellbeing of their communities, and I was impressed by their understanding of how that moral and material investment is also essential for ensuring a thriving economic future for Alaska.
No one, including me, wants to pay tax on their income, but the majority of Alaskans who testified on Tuesday night had clear beliefs about what kind of Alaska they want for themselves and their children, and they know that with oil revenues a small fraction of what they once were, we will need to take more responsibility to maintain and increase the quality of our lives here.
I recently wrote to a thoughtful constituent of mine in McGrath:
“Our House Majority Coalition is offering a solution to the fiscal dilemma that we think is practical and as evenhanded as possible. As you clearly understand, there is nothing out of the ordinary about our proposals.
“Our cuts to the Operating Budget were modest compared to recent years because we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. If you cut so much that you simply cripple programs and services, then you’ve removed the value from those dollars you do spend and you’ve set up government to fail.
“We believe that what state government currently provides is justified—legally and morally, as you say, but also according to what our constituents tell us they think is necessary and worthwhile. All the tools needed to pay for it are at hand, and as I mentioned above, in most parts of the country they’re considered pretty conventional methods.
“You’re right that there is a wide chasm between our plan and what the Senate is offering. The negotiations that need to happen in the coming weeks will not be easy. Still, I have some hope that reason and practicality will carry some weight.”
To “reason and practicality” I would also add “caring and responsibility.” I was moved by the dedication of those dozens of people who waited hours to put their views on the record Tuesday night. It heightens my pride in the people of Alaska, and it’s the kind of encouragement we need as the Alaska House Majority Coalition forges ahead in its effort to do what we know to be best for our constituents and our future economic prosperity.