Independence Day a good time to think about taxes in Alaska

As Americans celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence this week, it’s good to remember that taxes helped drive the push to break away from the king’s control and the laws of Parliament.

However, it wasn’t so much taxes themselves that rankled the colonists enough to start a war with England, though even then no one particularly liked paying taxes. The battle cry was over how they were imposed on people and businesses. “No taxation without representation” was the equivalent of a viral Twitter feed in 1765, more than a decade before the Declaration of Independence.

That’s when the colonies assembled elected officials to debate and take a stand against England’s Stamp Tax, which imposed a tax on printed documents, including legal papers, calendars, newspapers — even playing cards. It was a sales tax by another name, imposed to make money for England.

Protests ensued, based on the legal and moral outrage that only the colonial legislatures had the power to tax residents — which they already did to help pay for services, particularly schools and roads. It’s not surprising to see that almost 250 years later, schools and roads remain the focus of many tax debates in this country — particularly in Alaska.

In the 49th state, the taxing problem is not the lack of representation through governing bodies of elected officials. We have plenty of that, unlike the colonists who had no say in British tax law.

The problem in Alaska is representation without taxation. Too many state legislators and governors over the years have been just as averse to imposing reasonable taxes as the king was to giving up his unreasonable levies.

While it took a war to break away from the king, the only blood let in Alaska over taxes will be political. It’s a matter of elected leaders summoning the will and individuals accepting the personal responsibility to pay toward state services. That means taxes.

Just as they were 250 years ago, schools and roads are the big issues in Alaska: They are deteriorating for lack of funding. Education, child care services, job training, the state ferry system, public buildings, water and sewage systems are all falling behind what Alaskans need to build better communities and stronger families.

Too many of Alaska’s elected officials dismiss the need for taxes, looking only to their next election rather than the good of the state and its residents, particularly the future residents who are not moving here to strengthen the economy and fill vacant jobs. Poor services are not much of an attraction.

A personal income tax helped pay for public services for 30 years before the Legislature abolished it in 1980. The harm in not considering a return to the tax is the damage it causes to public schools, roads and quality of life in Alaska.

Taxation isn’t inherently bad, particularly if there is a representative form of government to make the decisions. That’s what the colonies fought to gain 250 years ago. That’s what Alaskans should be thinking about this year.

— Wrangell Sentinel


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