NOME, Alaska — With Alaska’s budget deficit nearing $4 billion, Representative Neal Foster (D-Nome) says cuts are coming and they’ll have major repercussions for the Bering Strait Region.
“It’s going to shape what rural Alaska looks like over the next 10 or 20 years,” said Foster.
Foster said he’s fighting proposed cuts to low-income heating assistance, preschool education funding, and broadband internet support — all services near-and-dear to those off the road system.
“It concerns me and it frustrates me that I’m seeing a number of cuts targeted toward rural Alaska,” he said. “I think things are shaping up to be a real showdown here. It’s not going to get any prettier from here on out.”
Beyond those cuts, Governor Bill Walker’s budget proposal would introduce a state income tax. According to Foster, the tax wouldn’t be too costly for most rural Alaskans.
“I think it’s a fairly small amount to ask for,” he said. “If you’re a single person and you make $50,000 a year and you don’t have any kids, that amounts to $341. If you’re married with two kids, your income tax would be $15.”
But Walker’s plan would also reduce dividend payouts from the Permanent Fund, which Foster doesn’t support.
“If you take $1,000 from somebody’s Permanent Fund [dividend] and that person makes $10,000 a year, that’s 10 percent of their income,” he said.
If the state does cut back on PFD checks, Foster said he’ll propose reducing dividends in proportion to income to minimize the impact on rural Alaskans.
As state lawmakers debate how to handle the deficit, Foster said he wants to hear more on the issues that matter to his constituents.
“I do want to very much encourage everybody in our district — from Shishmaref down to Hooper Bay and from Gambell and Savoonga all the way to Ruby — that if there’s any time that we want to hear from them, it’s now. This really is a history-making moment,” he said.
Foster said constituents can contact him by mail, email, and phone as well as through their city and tribal councils.