The subtext of this story (income taxes, dividend cuts … or not) …

Amanda Coyne (10.31.2013)At one point in college I took a writing class. (I know what the readers of this blog are thinking at this point, “he should have taken more!!” But that’s not the point of this piece.)

The professor had a particular point of view that he hammered in class after class. Writing, particularly fiction but also sometimes non-fiction writing, he argued, is really about conveying “subtext.” The story on the surface is never the real story; the real story is always in the “subtext.”

(A quick definition: “Subtext or undertone is content of a book, play, musical work, film, video game, or television series which is not announced explicitly by the characters (or author) but is implicit or becomes something understood by the observer of the work as the production unfolds. … Subtext can also be used to imply controversial subjects without specifically alienating people from the fiction, often through use of metaphor.”)

The professor’s favorite example was Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz.” Maybe that’s why I remember the class, because the Wizard of Oz was one of my favorites when I was growing up. I liked it because we lived in an area of the country that had tornados and was fascinated, when younger at least, by what might happen if our house was picked up by one.

But the college professor told us the Wizard wasn’t really about that at all. The subtext was intended to convey a political view of what was going on in the country at the time the book was written. Viewing it that way, the story actually became a lot more interesting and remains a favorite even today.

So it is with a battle that currently appears to be raging between me and officials (and various other wannabe’s) of the Alaska Republican Party.

As Amanda Coyne’s piece earlier this week notes, on the surface the story is about my “motives,” when I moved where and who I contributed money to when:

[McQueary’s] suspicious of Keithley’s motives. He’s long been wondering if Keithley isn’t a Democratic spoiler. He points to contributions that Keithley has made to the Dems. Further, he points out that the Alaska Constitution mandates that a candidate for governor be a resident of Alaska for seven years. Keithley says that by the time he runs, if he runs, he will have fulfilled the residency requirements. McQueary isn’t buying it. He points out that Keithley didn’t registered to vote here until 2010. Keithley argues back that residency doesn’t require voter registration.

But the real story — the subtext — is beyond that. McQueary throws in the above junk — and the wannabe’s throw in other junk (the more needy the wannabe, the more outrageous the junk) — all of which I have answered, in an attempt to tilt the playing field in their favor on what the debate really is about. That stuff is like the story of the tornado in the Wizard of Oz. Its fake stuff, fluff (third meaning) designed to attract the attention — and prejudice the conclusions — of the reader.

What the real story — the subtext — is about is what happens to state government spending over the next five years.

As I have said repeatedly on these pages, I want to bring state government spending back down to a sustainable level — the level it was three short years ago — in order to treat current and future Alaskans fairly and remove one of the most significant impediments to substantial investment in this state.

As it became clear during McQueary’s interview on The Casey Reynolds Show yesterday (joined briefly — until he hung up — by former Alaska Republican Party Chair Randy Ruedrich), McQueary and the wannabe’s want to keep spending higher than sustainable levels (in other words, they want to take money from future Alaskans) to maintain an artificial bubble in the Alaska economy (yesterday, they used the word “stimulate,” as does President Obama) as long as they can. (The podcast of the interview is available here. McQueary’s interview starts at minute 21:30 of Hour 1 and carries over until the first break in Hour 2. Casey’s reflection on it starts at 38:30 of Hour 3).

But here is the real, real story.  Make no mistake about it — what McQueary, Ruedrich and the wannabe’s are arguing for is imposing a statewide income, sales and property tax on Alaskans, and probably re-increasing the oil production tax and cutting the Permanent Fund Dividend as well, in order to maintain Alaska’s current bubble economy just a little while longer.

The only question is when the consequences will hit.

As I have made clear on these pages, based on current and projected revenues Alaska (just like each of us in our own lives) can only afford to spend so much. The “so much” Alaska currently can afford to spend is $5.5 billion/year. Spending above that level — by drawing on the fiscal reserves needed to be saved in order to ensure that future Alaskans also have the equivalent of $5.5 billion/year to spend — will lead to future tax increases.

This is what both Northern Economics and the University of Alaska-Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research have said on the topic if state spending remains at its current, elevated levels:

… state general fund revenues are projected to exceed state expenditures until 2015, after which time annual revenues fall below annual expenditures. Starting in 2015, the state begins to draw down accumulated balances in the general fund and constitutional budget reserve. Revenues from the development of a gas pipeline starting in 2020, the phasing in of a state personal income tax starting in 2022, reduction in the Permanent Fund dividend by half, and diversion of remainder of the earnings of the Permanent Fund to support general fund expenditures starting in 2023 largely offset declining oil revenues for a decade but eventually [even] they are insufficient to forestall a downward trend in general fund revenues ….

The plan McQueary, Ruedrich and the wannabe’s support is leading directly down that path.   The plan I have outlined does not.

Not surprisingly, in summing up the discussion with McQueary at the end of his show yesterday, Casey Reynolds said (here at 44:20):

… we are sort of through the wormhole [on this issue]. … I’m running out of excuses for maintaining a Party affiliation with the Republican Party … I used to hear people of previous generations say ‘I didn’t leave the Party the Party left me’ … I’m starting to see what they meant.  I don’t feel like I am leaving the Republican Party, I’m really feeling like the Party is leaving me.

Yep.  Alaska Republican Party officials arguing for tax increases — that is very wormhole-ish.

The debate will continue today when I take my turn with Casey Reynolds on his show this morning at the 8:30 am segment.  Tune in locally at KFQD, FM 103.7/AM 750, and outside of the region online here.  Now that we have stripped the story down to its subtext — and McQueary and Ruedrich have revealed their and the wannabe’s real intentions — its time to start the real debate about Alaska’s future:  taxes, dividend cuts … or not.

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