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TESTIMONY OF BILL TOPEL

BILL TOPEL
Anchorage, AK
Mar. 6, 2004

TOWN HALL MEETING
sponsored by
ALASKANS, JUST SAY NO!
Assembly Chambers, Loussac Library, Anchorage, AK

Greetings! Iím Bill Topel & am here today as a concerned citizen who first came to Alaska in 1966. Iím here, not as a paid participant like the CONFERENCE OF 55 ALASKANS who met in Fairbanks, but on my own time & dime. Iím here to share my insights on why we should NOT SPEND OUR PERMANENT FUND ON STATE GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS.

I believe we do not have a fiscal crisis as much as we have a SPENDING PROBLEM in state government. Previous Democratic & Republican governors & legislatures have allowed our state budgets to increase dramatically over the years since the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was built. Neither major party is immune from the blame. The size, pay, & benefits of all state public employees & bureaucrats have continued to increase. Headlines recently show that even Gov. Murkowski has wanted to increase his Governorís Office budget by over a million dollars. Last yearís legislative session, again controlled by the Republican Party majority, the alleged fiscal conservatives, failed to cut the size of state government which forced Gov. Murkowski to take the lead in cutting some areas but not all. While this past year has seen new & increased user fees on the average citizen & small businesspeople, like new studded tire fees, higher permit fees, an increase of the business license fee from $25 to $100 per year, etc., etc., etc., there has been no leadership from those in state government to reduce their own staffing size or pay.

It is this continued extraction of money from the private sector to pay for the continuted increase in the public sector which is UNFAIR. If the average citizen must contribute to solving the stateís alleged financial problems, that the politicians from both parties made, then those in state government must also share in the solution. If I have to reduce my quality of life by paying more user fees & taxes, then those working for state government AT ALL LEVELS must also have a corresponding reduction in their quality of life. Asking the average citizen to bear the full brunt of a solution, through more & higher user fees & ultimately a possible sales tax or income tax or limiting their Permanent Fund Dividend is showing contempt towards the people.

Although Iím no economic expert, I do have other questions which may lead to a better solution than more taxes & spending the Permanent Fund:

Why can Ďt our Governor & Legislature show some leadership by cutting their staff & pay?

Why canít we freeze the pay on current & future negotiated labor contracts with our state employees for a few years?

Why not ask our corporate citizens, like Big Oil, to contribute more?

Do our oil taxation policies & rates provide sufficient revenue to Alaskans when other Third World countries, with less environmental & governmental regulations, tax the multi-national corporations at higher rates & still allow for economic growth & more revenue for their peoples?

Is it time to eliminate the ELF -- Economic Limit Factor?

Has the CAFR -- Comprehensive Annual Financial Report -- been used to identify where there are hidden caches of funds in different departments?

Iím not against capitalism, but as long as we, the people of Alaska, collectively own our natural resources, as our State Constitution says we do, then we should start acting more like an ďowner stateĒ, as former Gov. Wally Hickel has written, lest we become just a source of exploitation from outside special interests, like former U.S. Senator Bob Bartlett warned us.

I think the Permanent Fund should only be spent if there is something catastrophic that happens in Alaska, e.g., another major destructive earthquake like in 1964, or severe volcanic eruptions, or floods, or God forbid, a terrorist attack on our pipeline or other infrastructure facilities. State government operation expenses should be matched with current revenues & there should be a CONSTITUTIONAL SPENDING LIMIT imposed. If we need to place the PFD amendment into our State Constitution so that it limits the amount of money that state government can spend, then so be it. I would rather have that dividend money go to us citizens so we can improve our quality of life, or pay our bills, or invest for our childrenís future higher education than to have it go for continued higher pay for government employees & larger government at the expense of the private sector. We need to be independent from government, not dependent on it. More money in my pocket & less in the governmentís budgets means more financial freedom & economic opportunity for me. State government has become obese & needs to go on a diet, just like I need to do.

In 1999, a statewide ballot advisory vote showed that 83% of the Alaskan voters were against spending the Permanent Fund for state government. I believe that majority holds true today -- 5 years later. In conclusion, thank you for my brief time to explain why we should all say, ďALASKANS, JUST SAY NO!Ē to spending the Permanent Fund for state government operations.


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