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KNBA News - Alaskans increasingly concerned about state budget shortfall

Jan 21, 2016

In a Rasmuson survey, Alaskans share ideas on how to handle state budget deficit

By Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO - Juneau

Alaskans are increasingly concerned about the $3.5 billion state budget shortfall. And they’re interested in using both state spending cuts and new revenue to close the gap.

That’s according to the Rasmuson Foundation’s Plan For Alaska which surveyed 800 Alaskans earlier this month.

Compared with a similar survey in July, the share of residents who are extremely concerned about the shortfall rose from 31 percent to 43 percent.

Two-thirds of residents want to close the shortfall with both spending cuts and new revenue, while 30 percent want only cuts.

Rasmuson Foundation President Diane Kaplan said a majority in every region of the state supported a statewide sales tax. That’s true even in areas that already have local sales taxes.

And while introducing a state personal income tax is the least popular option, with only 40 percent supporting the idea, support is higher if the tax were limited to those with higher incomes.

“We then looked a little more deeply on the income tax and we asked, would you support an income tax for people who earn a hundred thousand or greater, and as you can see, a majority of Alaskans except those who earn a hundred thousand or more thought that was a great idea.” .20.

Cutting spending is popular, with 55 percent supporting $500 million in cuts. But when asked for areas to reduce spending, fewer people could identify specific cuts.

Governor Bill Walker’s new budget plan, which includes a smaller amount of spending cuts, has the support of 55 percent of residents who’ve heard of it. But most people don’t know much about it.

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More than $100-million to go to 209 Alaska tribes to make up for BIA contract shortfalls

By Lori Townsend, APRN - Anchorage

The enormous $940 million class action lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs on behalf of tribes cleared the last court hurdle yesterday in New Mexico. The case stems from decades of short funding tribal contracts. More than 100 million dollars will be awarded to tribal organizations in Alaska.

The settlement is similar to one reached with the Indian Health Service last year, that also found tribes had agreed to contract amounts for tribal services but were then shorted the funds or in some cases, not awarded any money at all for the signed contracts with the federal government.

The Ramah Navajo tribe started the suit which eventually became a class action for hundreds of tribes and tribal organizations across the nation. The suit covered BIA tribal contracts from 1994 until 2013. After the tribes won, notices went out to them laying out the settlement.

Lloyd Miller is one of the attorneys working the case for tribes. He said a November deadline for tribes to object to the settlement terms passed with no disagreement.

"Which was stunning to us, a settlement that involves this kind of money, people are experienced with Cobell, which was controversial, not here,” said Miller. “And these are tribes able to get a lot of money. None objected to anything."

Although no tribes objected to the amounts or the terms, Miller said, they did hear from tribes that had been missed.

"And the data base the BIA used to develop the master list was incomplete......intertribal organizations."

He said the incomplete lists were the result of software changes within the BIA over the course of the 20 years the litigation has been ongoing.

Miller said yesterday's hearing was the last check-in with the court after the additional tribal groups had been included in the settlement. He said Judge James Parker should issue his final orders in the case within two weeks. Payments ranging from tens of millions to tens of thousands will be issued toward spring. Miller said 209 tribes in Alaska will receive more than 123 million dollars.