Saturday, April 02, 2016

Instead Of Taxes, How About An Alaska Membership Fee?

Back in 2008, at his corruption trial, Vic Kohring said that he had signed a 'no taxes' pledge.  He could not vote for any tax.  However, if the tax were called a fee, he might be able to vote for it.

Eight years later we still have legislators who are allergic to the word 'tax' and break out in hives and start hyperventilating when anyone utters the word.  Some key legislators in Juneau are willing to inflict enormous damage to the state of Alaska rather than even consider something like an income tax.

I have a proposal.

The Alaska Membership Fee

Everyone who lives in Alaska is eligible to buy a membership.  Memberships would be sold on a sliding scale based on factors such as net worth, income, location, age, etc.

The biggest attraction of the membership would be:

  • eligibility to apply for an Alaska Permanent Fund Check  - it wouldn't guarantee eligibility for the check, but without  an Alaska Membership Card (AMC) one couldn't apply.  

There could be a number of other perks one gets with an AMC such as:

  • free public education
  • discounts (or even free pass for higher levels) at state parks, state ferry, state run airports
  • access to Pioneer Homes
  • discounts and scholarships at University of Alaska campuses
  • discounts for driver's license, fishing licenses, hunting licenses, etc.
  • use of the Anchorage LIO when legislators aren't there
People who live in rural areas will have different needs from people who live in urban areas.  Age may also lead to different kinds and levels of service.  These will all be figured out.  Or, the legislature might decide that simplicity may be preferable to complicated pricing and eligibility requirements and choose to use one or two factors, such as income or net worth.  

Alaska Membership would help people realize the different benefits they get from the state that they normally enough without even thinking about it.  After all, good government is invisible.  Most people only notice government when it stops working well:
  • when diseases break out 
  • when potholes aren't repaired
  • when traffic lights don't work
  • when police abuse citizens
  • when foster kids are abused
  • when their own kids don't learn at school 
  • when garbage piles up and air is polluted 
  • when the water is no longer safe to drink
  • when state parks are all closed and local park equipment is broken
  • when voting machines are hacked
  • when gasoline pumps show more gallons than you actually got
When such government services break down, we end up paying more to deal with the consequences:
  • higher insurance and repair bills because of poorly engineered and maintained roads, contaminated water and air
  • lost work days and health costs because of lack of sanitation or access to basic health care
  • shortsighted legislators because of poor schooling
  • lost work time because of long waits in line because there aren't enough employees
  • higher need for police, courts, and social services because foster kids aren't well supported
  • weaker economy because business can't get good employees when government services make Alaska an undesirable place to live
You get the point.  Some of our influential legislators don't.  Their mantra is 'government is bad,'  'taxes are worse." 

But we wouldn't have to have an income tax or a sales tax.  Instead we'd all become members of the State of Alaska and our membership fees would go towards all those services that our legislators say are wasteful luxuries, like health care for the poor, like school teachers.  

Mostly, the creation of Alaska Membership would remove the key obstacle for those legislators who,  like Kohring,  can't accept the word tax, but could get behind a fee.  And it would be voluntary.  No one would have to join, but they couldn't apply for the Alaska Permanent Fund  check if they didn't.  And they could buy Alaska T-shirts and hats at a discount.  

I'd note that plenty of organizations, public and private, already use sliding scale fees for their services.  Here are just a couple of examples: 

Health Care
Independent Adoption Center
Golf Clubs and Health Clubs
Private Schools

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