WC notes that the arithmetically challenged Senator Mike Dunleavy (R, Wasilla, of course) plans his next futile effort to slash Alaska’s way to prosperity by hacking at educational funding. The Anchorage Dispatch News quotes Senator Dunleavy as saying, “We don’t have a choice but to cut — and you can use that quote. To seriously contemplate an income tax would be a fatal mistake for the state of Alaska.”
WC suggests the “fatal mistake” would be listening to Senator Dunleavy. Or electing him in the first place. But that’s a different post.
Senator Dunleavy thinks a state income tax is worse than hurting the education of an entire generation of Alaska school kids? State educational funding took a 9% hit last year, and under Governor Walker’s proposed budget would take another 2.5% this year. Senator Dunleavy wants to cut more.
But there’s a bigger political elephant in the room that is going to impact education funding: the Alaska Supreme Court. Apparently, a draft opinion is circulating in Ketchikan Gateway Borough vs State of Alaska, Ketchikan’s challenge to the present system of financing the state education system. Ketchikan thinks the current educational finance system is unfair, and has mounted a serious challenge. Ketchikan is right.
Under current law, those parts of Alaska that are organized into boroughs or larger cities outside of boroughs are required to contribute to the cost of education in their communities. Outside of organized boroughs and larger cities – the “unorganized borough” – the communities are excused from the match requirement. Some municipalities meet the match requirement with local sales taxes, others with property taxes, fish taxes or energy taxes. As you might expect, the tax requirement has been a terrific disincentive to creation of new municipalities in Alaska. Why create a town or borough and get saddled with a tax when you can stay unorganized and get a free ride?
The local match requirement is pretty arbitrary, too. It’s 4% of the state’s best guess at the value of all private real property and improvements in the municipality.
In a real economic sense, the organized communities are “carrying” the unorganized communities. Ketchikan got tired of it, and sued the State of Alaska, challenging the local match requirement. Ketchikan Superior Court Judge William Carey invalidated the local match, saying it violated the Alaska Constitution’s “dedication clause.” Judge Carey also determined that the local match requirement did not violate the two other theories advanced by Ketchikan, the veto power and the legislative appropriation power. Both the State and Ketchikan appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. Oral argument was held on September 15, 2015.
If the Alaska Supreme Court affirms Judge Carey’s decision, and the local match requirement is pitched out, the legislature will suddenly have a bigger problem than ever.
WC had anticipated that Senator Dunleavy and his allies in the Alaska Legislature would be willing to put the Alaska economy into a recession rather than be sensible and adopt a state income tax. WC had even anticipated that Senator Dunleavy would go after education funding and health care, bringing the Willie Sutton Principle to his notion of governance. What WC had not anticipated was that Senator Dunleavy and his allies would be idiotic enough to make further cuts when the entire education funding system may be in the tank.
Put yourselves in the shoes of a school board, for just a minute, or a school district superintendent: how do you plan for whatever the Alaska Supreme Court and the Alaska Legislature have in mind? How do you keep the focus on the students and student achievement when no one is sure they will have a job in a few months? Alaska and Alaskans face truly grim challenges delivering education as it is. Alaska struggles to graduate its kids, to provide a quality education in the Bush, and the keep good teachers and staff.
And Senator Dunleavy wants to make it harder. Maybe even impossible. While we all wait for the other foot to fall.