Nikiski Republican Ben Carpenter has filed a letter of intent to run for reelection to the state House of Representatives. He spoke with KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran about what he hopes to accomplish in the coming legislative session, and where the focus of the legislature will be on the budget, taxes and the Permanent Fund.
Shaylon Cochran: It looks like the fight this year is not necessarily going to be over budget reductions, it’s sounding like this session is going to be focused on the PFD. How are you hoping things take shape in terms of the budget, PFD.
Ben Carpenter: I think nobody wants to talk about cuts because it was such a controversial or negative thing last time, but we can’t solve our long term fiscal problem without talking about a reduction in state spending. And the reason is, our state government is funded by three main sources. One of those sources is under our control or our influence more than the other two, and that is our domestic GDP, our economic growth or our capacity to produce in our state. And when you increase our economic capacity in our state, that means you see an increase in revenue for the state. And if you take a long term approach for how to fund state government, and keeping in mind we’ve had a decline in our economic GDP, then the answer is not taxing the private sector more to continue spending, the answer is growing our economic capacity to meet the need. So the question is what are we going to do now in the short term to influence, positively influence, growth for the long term? And in the same vein, what must we not do now to negatively impact our ability to grow our economy going forward. Because long term growth needs to be the focus, not an immediate balance of this current 2021 budget. That is a goal, that is something that needs to happen, but we cannot do that and jeopardize long term growth.
SC: Where’s the point at which we’re doing more damage than good when it comes to cutting the budget or deregulation or whatever it might be, what do you see as the key to establishing that?
BC: That’s the million dollar question. That is a judgement call we’re going to have to make, when is enough spending enough and when is too much. ISER, back at the beginning of 2019, put out some figures on what would happen job wise and income wise in the state with a whole host of different solutions to the budget deficit and I don’t know that I fully trust the numbers that ISER is putting forward, but the concept of a tax and a budget cut both impacting the local economy, the current economy, is the point we need to focus on. And which of those two options, a new tax or a new cut, has the least negative impact to long term growth. If you put long term growth as the focus, and not just the focus of getting through this budget, then it constrains what our options are and this is why I’m saying we have to still be continuing to talk about reductions in state spending because I don’t think you can get to long term growth without addressing the state spending. If you compare the size of our state, I mean the population, the GDP, the economy, with other states that are similar, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, you will see that their spending levels are significantly lower than Alaska’s spending levels. We just are spending too much. That’s the reality. Nobody wants to face it because it’s a negative thing to tell people they’re going to lose their job or that there’s going to be services that have to be addressed some other way, but that’s the reality. We have to continue that conversation for the long term health of our state.