Even before vetoes, poll by anti-tax Gov. Dunleavy shows Alaskans, narrowly, favoring more taxes

Governor Mike Dunleavy speaks at a press conference in front of Wasilla Middle School. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

A newly-released poll commissioned by Republican Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office found that a narrow majority of respondents support raising taxes to help pay for state government – a sign that one of the governor’s central fiscal positions might not match the views of most Alaskans.

The poll was conducted in the spring, weeks before Dunleavy made an array of line-item budget vetoes that prompted public outcry and sparked a campaign to recall him.

[Click here to read the poll]

Fifty-two percent of respondents said they believe more taxes are needed, while 46 percent said no and 2 percent said they were unsure. The poll surveyed 604 registered voters from May 28 to June 1, and its margin of error was 4 percent.

Dunleavy’s office never released the results of the poll publicly. But a database of spending records showed that the governor’s office paid $34,500 in late June to Dittman Research, an Anchorage-based polling company.

Dittman is run by Matt Larkin, a political consultant to conservative candidates. He ran a super PAC-like group that spent nearly $2 million to help get Dunleavy elected last year.

In response to a public records request, the governor’s office released a four-page summary of the poll results Friday afternoon. Dunleavy’s spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, declined to comment on the poll’s results.

The tax question wasn’t the only one that showed respondents leaning away from the governor’s views. Forty-seven percent said they wanted their local legislators to be less supportive of Dunleavy’s policies, compared to 40 percent who wanted them to be more supportive.

The poll didn’t directly ask people if they approved of Dunleavy’s performance as governor. But respondents were evenly split – 47 percent to 47 percent, with 6 percent unsure – when asked if they supported the governor’s budget.

Other questions produced more favorable answers for Dunleavy. Fifty-four percent of respondents opposed diverting part of the Permanent Fund dividend to pay for government services, which aligns with the governor’s agenda, while 43 percent were in support and 3 percent were unsure. (That question was asked a second time after the poll tested different arguments for and against using money from the dividend on government services; the results changed to 55 percent opposed, 44 percent in support and 1 percent unsure.)

A majority of respondents, 55 percent, also supported repealing Senate Bill 91, the 2016 criminal justice legislation that Dunleavy successfully pushed to roll back. Nineteen percent wanted the legislation to stay in place, while 26 percent were unsure.

Dunleavy and Alaska lawmakers have been fighting over the state budget since the annual legislative session began in January. Their debate centers on how to balance spending on government services with residents’ annual dividend payments from the $66 billion Permanent Fund, since Alaska doesn’t have enough revenue to sustain both of them at status quo levels.

Dunleavy has pushed to keep calculating and paying the dividends under a decades-old legal formula, which would set them at roughly $3,000 this year. He proposed closing the resulting budget deficit, which he said was $1.6 billion, with steep cuts to government services.

The state Legislature largely rejected that proposal, reducing the dividend to $1,600 and restoring many of the cuts that the governor wanted to make.

Alaska is the only state with no statewide sales or income tax; it repealed its income tax in 1980, amid a boom in oil revenue. But as oil taxes and royalties have declined in recent years, lawmakers have periodically proposed levying new taxes on the public to help close the state’s budget deficit.

A left-leaning coalition of political activists also filed an initiative this week that would raise taxes on oil companies.

Dunleavy, a Republican, has repeatedly dismissed those ideas.

“You have to manage your programs better before you even talk about taking the PFD or a tax,” he said at a campaign debate hosted by KTUU-TV and Alaska Public Media last year. “You need to put those instruments in place because if you don’t, your government will continue to grow out of control and we’ll be going to the people of Alaska year after year for more taxes or more Permanent Fund take.”

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