Our state is facing budget challenges and will need to make important decisions about how we can best address these challenges to continue providing health and financial security and economic opportunities to Alaskans of all ages, and older Alaskans in particular.
This spring, AARP Alaska contracted with Dittman Research, a long-established Alaskan scientific survey research firm to conduct a telephone survey to gauge AARP member knowledge, attitudes, and support for potential solutions to our state’s fiscal challenges. In this survey we asked AARP members a variety of questions about our states budget challenges and possible solutions to addressing these challenges.
Before Alaskans were asked to respond to our budget survey questions, we asked some questions about the impact of the pandemic on their households, and then the surveyors read them this brief paragraph about Alaska’s financial situation – to be sure that everyone answering the survey had the same basic level of information.
For many years, Alaska used its oil revenues to balance the state budget and fund state services and programs. At the same time, the state used Permanent Fund earnings to issue dividend checks to all Alaska residents. As oil revenues declined, the state reduced spending on services and programs and used the state savings account to help balance its budget. Now, the state savings account is nearly depleted, and the state is using Permanent Fund earnings to help pay for services and issue dividend checks to residents. Without enough oil revenue or state savings to draw from, Alaska is considering additional cuts and new ways to raise revenue to help balance the state budget, maintain state programs and services, and continue issuing Permanent Fund Dividend checks.
In the survey we gauged support for five possible solutions: budget cuts, a statewide sales tax, a statewide income tax, increasing oil & gas taxes, and capping the PFD.
Our key findings in this survey of AARP Alaska members are:
- There is very little appetite for additional budget cuts. Cuts to state spending on local government funding, public safety, education, transportation, health services for children/low-income families, and home care services for seniors are opposed by 71-86% of AARP members. A plurality to a majority “strongly oppose” these cuts.
- Two-thirds of AARP members overall support a 3% state sales tax initially. However, when participants were informed that a combined state/local sales tax for some communities could be as high as 10 percent, support for a state sales tax dropped to just below majority at 48%.
- A state graduated income tax is supported by a wide margin (+18% support) overall. There are strong opinions on both sides of the income tax issue, but “strong support” exceeds “strong opposition” by a margin of 8%. Younger AARP members and those working full-time are more divided on the issue.
- Capping PFD checks as a way to help balance the state budget and maintain state services is supported by a margin of 15% overall. Margins of support are higher among older and higher income members. Southcentral members, those under age 65, and those with household incomes under $60,000 a year are more likely to oppose capping PFD checks.
- AARP members support increasing taxes on oil and gas companies by a very wide margin (+39% support), and the majority of members (51%) “strongly support” this. Wide margins of support are seen across all demographic subgroups in this survey.
- Increasing oil taxes is also ranked as the preferred way to balance the state budget when members were asked to rank the five proposed solutions. Following oil taxes, members prefer a sales tax or income tax, and were asked to respond to our budget survey questions, then capping the PFD. Cuts to state spending is ranked last, lagging the other priorities significantly.
As older Alaskans, our voices are important to legislators and particularly impactful as a chorus under the AARP flag. Alaska’s senior population represents over a third of registered voters in the state, and we have an outsized impact in elections – particularly in lower turnout elections such as primaries. Older Alaskans consistently participate in voting at higher rates than any other age group, and at 10 percentage points or more than general voter turnout rates.
The survey's message to legislators from AARP is simple: the strongest voting group in Alaska - older Alaskans - support revenue solutions over cuts to state services or cuts to the PFD. Additionally, despite the failed ballot measure this past year, the 50+ support an increase on oil and gas taxes and may prefer a different rate or a legislative decision over the ballot box.
And perhaps most importantly, older Alaskans are keenly aware of the state fiscal challenges and are willing to do their part to ensure a sustainable Alaska for future generations. There is support for either a graduated personal income tax or a state sales tax on non-essential goods and services that makes allowance for local sales tax payments.
We shared these messages with legislative leadership at a telephone town-hall with Senate President Peter Micciche and Speaker of the House, Louise Stutes on June 2. You can find the recording of the June 2 tele-town hall on Facebook or on our Vekeo page.
Meanwhile, the Alaska Legislature ended their regular session without agreement on the budget between the House and Senate. Legislators are now in a special session called by Governor Dunleavy to pass a budget for the state fiscal year, beginning July 1. The House and Senate have some significant budget differences, and are most notably without consensus on an amount for the Permanent Fund Dividend.
The governor has also called a special session for August to consider constitutional amendments regarding the PFD, the Permanent Fund Earnings Account, and new revenues. Legislative leadership has indicated that the longer-term discussion on budget sustainability and new revenues will take place during that August special session so that legislators have June and July to hear from constituents on these issues.
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Please click here to access the survey report, the full methodology, and topline findings. Please contact Jennifer Sauer at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions regarding this survey.