At town-hall meeting, Parish advocates state income tax

Mendenhall Valley legislator holds meeting at library

Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, talks to attendees of his Tuesday town hall in the Mendenhall Valley Public Library before the start of the meeting. James Brooks | Juneau Empire

Mendenhall Valley’s representative to the Alaska Legislature still believes Alaska needs a “light income tax” to fix its multibillion-dollar deficit.

 

Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, addressed a small crowd Tuesday night at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library in a town hall billed as an update on the legislative session.

“It’s my conviction that we should pay for our government rather than kicking it down the path,” Parish said. “I’m convinced, as I was from the time I ran, that the wisest course would be to implement a light income tax.”

He did not elaborate, but Parish previously supported House Bill 115, an income tax that passed the House this year before the Senate voted it down, 4-15.

Asked whether a state sales tax could be an alternative to an income tax, Parish said he’s against that idea because communities like Juneau already collect sales taxes, and a state tax layered atop local taxes would increase costs for locals.

He added that a sales tax wouldn’t collect much money from out-of-state workers; according to state estimates, almost a fifth of any state income tax would be paid by Outside workers.

Attendance was light: 10 Juneau residents were in the audience when Parish began his talk while eating an orange. An additional six walked in after the town hall started; two legislative staffers and Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, also attended and offered occasional comments.

Parish, who was elected to the Legislature in 2016, last week filed a letter of intent with the Alaska Public Offices Commission indicating he intends to run for re-election in 2018. No challenger has yet registered.

Parish spent much of his 45-minute town hall discussing the state’s fiscal situation and the Legislature’s performance on that topic.

“We bailed out just enough to keep the boat afloat just a little longer, but until we patch the holes … it’s going to be a terrible struggle year after year,” he said.

Sitting in the audience, Don Gotschall of North Douglas said he had some problems with the way the Legislature cut the Permanent Fund Dividend. This year’s dividend will be just $1,100 per person, instead of almost twice that amount.

“I just think that was a crude way to (cut the deficit),” Gotschall said.

Gotschall also called the maneuver “unjust,” since it affects millionaires and children the same.

“It is,” Parish said in agreement. “It’s the worst way (to address the deficit), and it’s the easiest way, and it’s going to be part of the ultimate solution unless there was an alternative like a reasonable oil tax bill.”

As that discussion of dividend cuts continued, Valley resident Elizabeth Smith reacted with incredulity: “Do they take drug testing on legislators?”

“It seems perfectly reasonable if we could find the funding,” Parish said, to laughter from the audience.

On other topics, Parish said he continues to support the idea of a road north from Juneau, and he has “become convinced that we need meaningful reform for our criminal justice reform.”

Parish was referencing last year’s passage of Senate Bill 91, which reduced sentences for nonviolent crimes. The Legislature passed a bill rolling back some of those changes during the 2017 session, and another rollback bill has passed the Senate and is in the House.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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