Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Alaska House Fisheries Committee Takes up Fish Tax Bill

The Alaska House Fisheries Committee heard extensive testimony this past week on proposed legislation to repeal the fisheries business tax allocation to municipalities. Those funds are used by the various communities to provide for fisheries infrastructure, schools, health and social services. Officials from Kodiak, King Cove, Akutan, Cordova, Sitka, the Aleutians East Borough and the city of Unalaska were among those telling House Fisheries of the dire economic impact such legislation would have on their communities. All were opposed to House Bill 65, which is backed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The estimated total of the municipal share of the raw fish tax in Fiscal Year 2020 is $29.1 million, according to Matt Gruening, chief of staff and fisheries committee aide to Committee Chair Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak.

“It is a terrible bill that would have a tremendous impact on every fishing community in Alaska. For many this is the community’s largest revenue source. The loss of this money would be devasting for Unalaska,” said Frank Kelty, the mayor of Unalaska – the nation’s number one fishing port, by seafood volume, in the country.

“Fishing communities in Alaska produce 56 percent of the nation’s seafood,” said Kelty. “We need to keep these communities strong. Unalaska, which uses local tax revenues to pay its own way, just completed a $10 million container dock, which was totally bonded by the city,” he added.

Kodiak’s Pat Branson noted that the state no longer owns the port infrastructure and the city is responsible for its port. “Those fish business tax funds make up 4.5 percent of our general fund revenue,” he explained.

King Cove City Administrator Gary Henning noted that HB 65 would present a daunting challenge, requiring a reduction in city programs and employment. Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin said, “losing those funds would cripple the local economy in a community positioned to grow into one of the nation’s top fishing ports.”

Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League, was among those specially invited to give testimony. Andreassen remarked that taking away sharing of fisheries business taxes with communities would reduce the quality of life of their residents adding that the fish tax revenues support health and welfare and improves the community’s credit ratings.

As testimony wrapped up, House Fisheries Chair Stutes noted that not one person had testified in support of the bill.

HB 65 was been set aside for further consideration; it currently remains in House Fisheries.

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