Originally published in the Anchorage Daily News
This holiday season, Alaskans can have a renewed sense of hope for good jobs, larger paychecks, stronger growth and enduring prosperity. The reason why is Wednesday’s passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which includes two historic opportunities for our state.
The first — and perhaps most unexpected, at the start of this year — is the opening of the 1002 area within the non-wilderness portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Set aside by Congress in 1980, Alaskans never gave up on its incredible potential for energy development, and our longstanding efforts finally succeeded this week.
Opening the 1002 area is the single most important step we can take to strengthen our long-term security and create new wealth. Given Alaska’s economic struggles, with the highest unemployment of any state and massive budget deficits projected well into the future, the substantial benefits that responsible development will bring cannot arrive soon enough.
New production from the 1002 area will help restore throughput to the trans-Alaska pipeline, our state’s economic backbone. It will help lower tariffs for the pipeline, increasing the viability of all North Slope oil development. Over time, it will create thousands of good jobs. And it will generate what we project to be over $60 billion in royalties for our state alone.
Thanks to new technologies, we can also be confident that development will not come at the expense of our environment or wildlife. We need less land to produce more energy than ever before, which is why we have limited the footprint of development to no more than 2,000 federal acres — just one-ten-thousandth of all of ANWR.
In developing our legislative text, we took great care to listen to those who will have the most at stake as development begins. After visiting Kaktovik earlier this year, I took the concerns of local residents to heart, and made sure that neither the environmental review process nor consultation requirements would be waived in any way.
While opening the 1002 area is a significant milestone for Alaska, so, too, is tax reform. It will provide the kind of relief for working families that we have not seen since the days of President Ronald Reagan, some 31 years ago, while also taking long overdue steps to make our businesses competitive on a global scale.
• We cut tax rates for individuals in every income bracket.
• We doubled the standard deduction, to allow you to keep even more of your own money.
• We doubled the child tax credit, while making more of it refundable.
• We took significant steps to advantage small businesses — which make up 99 percent of the companies in our state.
• We significantly lowered taxes on pass-throughs, to create a ripple effect that will allow them to keep growing and hiring.
• We even cut the excise tax on small brewers, which should make everyone hoppy as good beer becomes more affordable.
On the education side, our bill maintains all of the tax incentives to pursue postsecondary education that exist in current law. Students and parents will continue to benefit from tax deductions for tuition and student loan interest, exemptions for student tuition waivers, and employer-provided assistance.
Finally, we restore Alaskans’ freedom to make their own decisions on health insurance by eliminating the individual mandate, a tax penalty that has harmed many in recent years. By repealing the mandate, all that is impacted is the tax that was imposed on those who chose not to buy insurance they cannot afford or simply don’t want to. Nothing else under the ACA is impacted.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was a team effort — the culmination of decades of work from countless Alaskans who never gave up. And while gratitude is deserved in many quarters, we would not have succeeded this year were it not for two particularly effective advocates for our state: Congressman Don Young and Sen. Dan Sullivan, my friends and colleagues.
This holiday season, we have plenty of reason for cheer, a lot to be thankful for, and even more to look forward to in the years ahead.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has served in the U.S. Senate since 2002.