Sarah Palin's Alaskonomics
By MICHAEL KINSLEY Tue Sep 9, 2:55 AM ET
Sarah Palin thinks she is a better American than you because she comes from a small town, and a superior human being because she isn't a journalist and never lived in Washington and likes to watch her kids play hockey. Although Palin praised John McCain in her acceptance speech as a man who puts the good of his country ahead of partisan politics, McCain pretty much proved the opposite with his selection of a running mate whose main asset is her ability to reignite the culture wars. So maybe Governor Palin does represent everything that is good and fine about America, as she herself maintains. But spare us, please, any talk about how she is a tough fiscal conservative.
Palin has continued to repeat the already exposed lie that she said, "No, thanks," to the famous "bridge to nowhere" (McCain's favorite example of wasteful federal spending). In fact, she said, "Yes, please," until this project became a symbol and political albatross.
Back to reality. Of the 50 states, Alaska ranks No. 1 in taxes per resident and No. 1 in spending per resident. Its tax burden per resident is 21/2 times the national average; its spending, more than double. The trick is that Alaska's government spends money on its own citizens and taxes the rest of us to pay for it. Although Palin, like McCain, talks about liberating ourselves from dependence on foreign oil, there is no evidence that being dependent on Alaskan oil would be any more pleasant to the pocketbook.
Alaska is, in essence, an adjunct member of OPEC. It has four different taxes on oil, which produce more than 89% of the state's unrestricted revenue. On average, three-quarters of the value of a barrel of oil is taken by the state government before that oil is permitted to leave the state. Alaska residents each get a yearly check for about $2,000 from oil revenues, plus an additional $1,200 pushed through by Palin last year to take advantage of rising oil prices. Any sympathy the governor of Alaska expresses for folks in the lower 48 who are suffering from high gas prices or can't afford to heat their homes is strictly crocodile tears.
As if it couldn't support itself, Alaska also ranks No. 1, year after year, in money it sucks in from Washington. In 2005 (the most recent figures), according to the Tax Foundation, Alaska ranked 18th in federal taxes paid per resident ($5,434) but first in federal spending received per resident ($13,950). Its ratio of federal spending received to federal taxes paid ranks third among the 50 states, and in the absolute amount it receives from Washington over and above the amount it sends to Washington, Alaska ranks No. 1.
Under the state constitution, the governor of Alaska has unusually strong powers to shape the state budget. At the Republican Convention, Palin bragged that she had vetoed "nearly $500 million" in state spending during her two years as governor. This amounts to less than 2% of the proposed budget. That's how much this warrior for you, the people, against it, the government, could find in wasteful spending under her control.
One thing Barack Obama and McCain disagree on is an oil windfall-profits tax. McCain is against it, on the theory that it is a tax and therefore bad and also on the theory that it would discourage domestic production. Obama is for it, on the theory that if oil companies can make a nice profit when oil sells for $50 per bbl., they can still make a nice profit when it sells at more than $100, even if the government takes a bit and spreads the money around to those who are hurting from higher oil prices.
Although Palin's words side with McCain in this dispute, her actions side with Obama. Her major legislative accomplishment has been to revamp Alaska's windfall-profits tax in order to increase the state's take. Alaska calls it a "clear and equitable share" tax. The state assumes that extracting oil from the tundra costs about $25 per bbl. and takes as much as 75% of the difference between that and the sale price.
Why is a windfall-profits tax good for Alaska but not for the U.S.? Well, it's obvious, isn't it? People in Alaska are better than people in the rest of the U.S. They're more American. Although there are small towns and farms and high school hockey teams in the lower 48, there are fewer down here, per capita, than in Alaska. And there are many more journalists and pollsters and city dwellers and other undesirables who might benefit if every American had the same right to leech off the government as do the good citizens of Sarah Palin's Alaska.