Seaton focuses on budget and PFDs in town hall forum
House District 31 Rep. Paul Seaton held a town hall forum Tuesday evening. Seaton is running for re-election and answered a number of questions from audience members, but he chose to focus mostly on the budget, finding new revenue streams and the Permanent Fund.
Seaton called some of this election cycle’s most popular talking points, like restoring the old PFD formula or cutting the budget, “bumper sticker politics.” He spent most of his time promoting the idea of a broad-based tax to audience members at Alice’s Champagne Palace, something the current House majority Seaton belongs to has been pushing for since 2016.
Seaton argues implementing a broad-based tax, namely an income tax, will be a boon for both the Permanent Fund itself and dividends.
“So as long as we go forward with a plan that becomes sustainable and generates additional revenue, changing oil taxes, getting some kind of broad-based tax, then we will be able to grow the Permanent Fund Dividend as well as the Permanent Fund over time.”
Seaton also said an income tax would force out-of-state workers to pay into state coffers.
Currently, other states with an income tax can tax workers’ income made in Alaska. According to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, non-residents made up a fifth of Alaska’s workforce and took home nearly $2.5 billion in 2016.
Seaton noted that any broad-based tax would provide a mechanism for the state to benefit from those workers and from job creation in the future.
“Again, no sales tax that goes to the state, no income tax and no individual property taxes that go to the state,” Seaton reiterated.
Seaton also praised the Legislature’s use of the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve to pay for state government, which reduced the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget gap to $700 million.
The move cut this year’s dividend nearly in half. Returning to the old formula would cost about $840 million. Seaton argues that would lead to drastic layoffs.
“I mean it’s like when people say they want to pay the full Permanent Fund Dividend, to do that with cuts, you would lay off two-thirds of all state employees.”
Seaton questioned how his opponent, who supports the old PFD formula and budget cuts, would streamline the state’s finances or find revenue to pay for larger dividends.
The state’s operating budget has been cut about 15 percent since fiscal year 2013.
“You can cut the budget, but is it going to be the Alaska you want to live in the way it is,” Seaton questioned, “or are you going to be waiting 48 hours for the roads to be plowed? Are you going to have less troopers than we have now? Are we going to go back to those things?”
Seaton commented on his departure from the Republican Party earlier this year as well, saying that he left because of the party’s stance on broad-based taxes and the state’s budget crisis.
Seaton has been at odds with the party ever since he and two other House Republicans joined the current House majority coalition, which is made up of mostly Democrats.
This was Seaton’s first forum style event leading up to the general election. It’s unclear whether he will debate Republican nominee Sarah Vance.
The House District 31 Republican Party imposed stipulations on any debate between the two candidates, which led the Homer Chamber of Commerce to cancel its debate for the race. No other debates have been publicly advertised.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported how much the state's operating budget had been cut between FY2013 and FY2019. Unrestricted and designated funds were cut by about 15 percent.