Paul Seaton isn’t ready to let go of his position working on Alaska’s law through the House of Representatives, though his path to re-election got a bit complicated this time around.
Seaton, the incumbent, is running to retain his District 31 seat. After significant push back from the Republic Party and its members, Seaton filed to run as a nonpartisan candidate. The Republican Party tried to block Seaton from running in its 2018 primaries, a move the Alaska Division of Election denied.
“I think the difference … (is that the) party is actually … actively opposing my candidacy,” Seaton said of how this year’s race differs from elections past.
Seaton goes into the race with a solid campaign account of $42,000, according to his July 21 Alaska Public Offices Commission report. He raised almost $12,000 in this election cycle and spend almost $7,000. He’s raised much of that in $250-$500 personal donations, including $400 from Assembly Member Kelly Cooper, as well as donations of $500-$1,000 from political action committees such as the Alaska Public Employees Association/American Federation of Teachers PAC. A House Representative since 2003, Seaton is well known by most voters by now, and he said he hasn’t changed his political tune very much in all that time. He said he hasn’t altered his views on the state’s economics, nor has he shifted on social issues.
“I’ve generally been committed to Alaska getting its fair share from our resources,” he said, referencing the minimum gross production tax for oil in the state, as well as other resources.
Seaton came to Alaska in 1975 and lived in Seward until 1982. He lived in Anchor Point until 1992 and has resided in Kachemak City since 1993. A longtime commercial fisherman, he owns K-N-S Marine, a fish tender business operating two vessels. Seaton holds a bachelor of science degree in biology, a master of arts degree in teaching biological sciences and a master of science degree in marine zoology.
Though Seaton has served on myriad committees in the Alaska Legislature, he is perhaps best known recently for having co-chaired the Finance Committee for the operating budget in the 2017-2018 cycle. He and two other moderate Republicans made waves when they joined the Alaska House Majority Coalition in 2016.
Seaton said he was motivated to make that move by the way the Legislature was handling the state’s finances.
“The big problem with the (Republican) Party was basically leadership, and the leadership of the statewide party was basically, ‘we’re only going to spend savings,’” he said.
“To me, that’s a non-fiscally conservative … position,” he added.
To Seaton, it was important to break rank in order for legislators to be able to come together for the common goal of solving the fiscal crisis at the time.
“When people come to the table and say they’re not going to solve (problems), that is not acceptable to me,” he said.
The fate and future of the Permanent Fund Dividend is a hot topic in this District 31 race. Seaton pointed out that the House had been in favor of a higher dividend than the Senate was.
Lowering the PFD has the highest impact on Alaskans, Seaton said, when compared with instituting new revenue through something like an income tax — which would tap into non-resident workers — or changing the state’s current oil tax credits. Other than the financial situation, Seaton said his big focus would be crime in the state, which he attributes to years of cuts to the budget where public safety is involved.
While some speak of term limits in Alaska government, Seaton said there’s something to be said for institutional knowledge.
“Some institutional knowledge is really helpful,” he said. “Because there have been a number of issues that have come up … and it’s like, wait a minute. We tried that, and it didn’t work.”
1) What is the biggest issue facing Alaska and how would you address it?
Alaska spends more than it takes in. Alaska has cut overall expenditures about 40% but it has not increased or diversified its income at all. We face a revenue shortfall of about $2.3 billion to provide essential services (not counting the use of $1.7 billion of the Earnings Reserve of the Permanent Fund). This lack of revenue means the state must use hundreds of millions of savings just to maintain the quality of life Alaskan’s want.
There are two solutions to Alaska’s revenue problem: increase existing sources or diversify with new revenue.
The oil price crash in 2015 demonstrated how vulnerable the Alaska system was to volatile oil prices. But $65 per barrel is no longer a “crash” price yet with the current oil tax system there is deficit spending of about $600 million. At $65 the oil tax system is the lowest production tax rate in the history of the State. The “minimum tax” is 4% of the gross value which is less than 8% net profit tax, yet companies get a ‘credit’ from their taxes for expenses as if they paid a 35% net profit tax.
Every other state in America has a state sales tax, a state property tax or a state income tax and most have a combination.
Alaska’s inability to diversify our revenue adds to the recession by constricting the capital budget. Cuts to public safety resulted in a crime wave. Cuts to education will endanger our future. Working together we can solve the revenue problem.
2) What approach would you take to the state budget and the fiscal gap: a) maintain status quo with $1.7 billion paid for out of Permanent Fund earnings and a PFD cap of $1,600, b) set no cap on PFD. (If so, how would you either find other revenue to fund government or cut the budget?) or c) some other approach?
A budget is a projection of desired spending and the sources of income. A balanced budget will match current income to those expenditures. Spending savings to balance a budget is only sustainable if the system is constructed to replace those savings in the future. The House passed a Four Pillar plan that would have done that job by 1) making cuts to unsustainable oil tax credits, 2) reforming oil taxes to get Alaska closer to the world-wide average fair share for our oil, 3) protecting the Permanent Fund Dividend with a sustainable formula of Percent Of market Value (POMV) draw from the Earnings Reserve Account and 4) generating new revenue through the 4th lowest state progressive income tax in the Nation.
The mix of those elements is necessary to accomplish the goal of a balanced budget without overburdening any segment of Alaska. Unfortunately, the Senate has so far refused to engage in the second or fourth pillars, so we still have a projected deficit and continue to deplete savings.
Setting a PFD amount is not possible under our State Constitution. One legislature cannot bind the decisions of a future legislature responding to the conditions of their times. Prohibiting Dedicated Funds was a core principle at the constitutional convention. The legislature must appropriate every expenditure. Only a constitutional amendment voted in by the people could establish a dedicated fund. I think the House had an appropriate mix of new revenue, oil tax, POMV draw and PFD.
3) What is your vision for Alaska?
My vision for Alaska is that all people can exercise as much personal freedom as possible to make decisions for themselves and have opportunities to fulfill the goals for their life. Economic opportunity is one important aspect but to get there we need a world class education system that is available to all. That is one reason I worked so hard for the Alaska Performance Scholarship Program that allows every student who desires to take more than the required courses to get a scholarship for either college or work certificate to be qualified for their personal goals.
My vision of Alaska contains a justice system that deters people from crime. It must hold people accountable but focus on rehabilitating those who go outside of society’s bounds and do damage to other Alaskans.
My vision for Alaska is that we focus on prevention of disease and work to avoid many of the healthcare costs and heartache. We should apply the newest medical knowledge and not just to treatment and drugs after people become sick or injured. Prevention of chronic health conditions and mental health problems is so much less costly and less disruptive to people’s personal goals and their families.
My vision for Alaska is all people are treated equally with respect and working together to solve the difficult problems that arise in the only arctic state with such a diverse and yet exceptional population. I envision adoption of an economic solution that sustains the PFD for future generations.