Jodi Taylor

GUEST COMMENTARY: ‘Fair Share’ organizers will weather the economic storm. Alaskans may not.

My grandparents and their children moved to Alaska in 1964. Since then, my family has called Alaska home, and owned 12 Alaska-based businesses. My grandparents were drawn to Alaska for the increased opportunity oil finds would bring their young family. The rest of us have stayed because Alaska, with a strong oil industry, remains a land of opportunity. Alaska’s state budget, which relies heavily on oil revenues for funding, has been a point of contention for the last few years. The sudden economic impacts of the COVID-19 virus and a squabble over oil production between Saudi Arabia and Russia have caused the price of oil to plunge to less than $1 per barrel, placing Alaska’s state budget in grave peril. It is going to be a rough time in Alaska until these situations resolve, and it is anyone’s guess when that will happen. Our state’s economy depends on oil and gas production. Unfortunately, Alaska now faces pressure and uncertainty from within our own state; we must decide if we will act as a long-term partner with oil producers and reap the benefit of future decades of growth and development, or stifle future development in our state by voting for the latest oil tax ballot measure. Ballot Measure One would raise taxes on our Alaskan oil producers by 150 percent at these low prices, and by 300 percent at the higher prices we saw earlier this year. Despite this massive increase, proponents claim the measure will not hurt oil investment in Alaska. Such an assertion defies logic and flies in the face of basic economic theory. This would be true at normal oil prices, but is especially true when prices are low. To provide context for what such a tax increase would mean for a family or business, we need look no further than Ballot Measure One chair, drafter, and funder Robin Brena. Robin Brena is an owner in a company that owns about $20 million in Anchorage real estate. In 2019, Brena’s company paid the Municipality of Anchorage more than $300,000 in property taxes. Of course, as an LLC, he paid no state corporate income tax. If the city increased taxes on his company by 300 percent, he would be required to pay the city almost $1 million in additional taxes each year. Without a doubt, such an increase would change how he spends his money, how he does business, and how and where he invests. This shift would have a negative impact on the people he employees and their families, as well as the businesses that lease space in his buildings. Fortunately for Robin Brena, he can probably weather a major economic downturn in Alaska’s economy. Many Alaskans, however, cannot. We need the oil industry to thrive in order for our economy to thrive. There are many promising opportunities for Alaska on the horizon. Through significant prior investments, oil companies have made big discoveries, like the Pikka and Willow oil fields, which can provide decades of opportunity for Alaskans. Soon we may have ANWR lease sales, which will be another potential boost to our state. We cannot jeopardize generations of opportunity for Alaska families and small businesses by enacting an overreaching tax that will drive investment dollars to more competitive areas in the world. Please join me in protecting Alaska families and small businesses by voting no on Ballot Measure One. Jodi Taylor is the co-chair of OneAlaska.

Our children must read by 9

Right now, Alaska’s public-school children are ranked dead last in the nation in fourth-grade reading proficiency, a key indicator used to measure academic success. In terms of school years, they are up to a full year behind their counterparts in other states. This means many of our fourth graders cannot read Charlotte’s Web or The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. While it may seem like such a simple, basic issue, the ability to read is actually the foundation of a child’s educational success; the value of reading cannot be stressed enough. By not guaranteeing that grade-school students become proficient readers, we are failing our children. We must do everything in our power to ensure that every child is able to read well enough so that when they enter middle school and begin learning harder material, they can read to learn. Through the third grade, students learn to read. As they enter the fourth grade, they read to learn. If a child does not develop this skill, he or she will also fall behind in social studies and science. Word problems in math will be unsolvable, navigating the rich world of literature impossible, and communicating complex ideas in written and spoken word unthinkable. Students who cannot read well almost never catch up and their future is in peril. Statistics compiled by groups like ExcelinEd are sobering. Students who cannot read by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. High school dropouts make up 75 percent of food stamp recipients and 90 percent of those on welfare. Nearly 85 percent of teenagers in the juvenile justice system cannot read to learn and seven out of 10 adult prisoners cannot read above a fourth-grade level. Evidence-based research shows that a strong reading initiative can make a big difference. The Alaska Policy Forum supports a “Read by 9” policy which provides a common sense and proven solution. It starts by making sure kindergartners know the ABCs and the sounds they make. Strategies, guided by science, focus on developing critical skills through the third grade so students can read with ease, understand the material, and are starting to think critically. We need to implement a system of instruction that places a heavier emphasis on making sure our children leave third grade with the ability to read. We want each child entering the fourth grade to do so with confidence and with the skills he or she needs to learn. As a final safeguard, students unable to read proficiently at their grade level may be retained and given an extra year of enhanced instruction so that before promotion to the next grade, they can learn to read well. Because learning to read is so important and catching up so difficult to do, students must be proficient readers before they move on to more difficult materials. Regardless of where they go to school, every child deserves the opportunity to reach his or her full potential and to fully embrace the American dream. Let’s work together: parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers to ensure that Alaska implements the Read by 9 reading initiative so that all our children can read to learn and love to learn. Jodi Taylor is an Alaska Policy Forum board member, a life-long Alaskan that attended public school, an entrepreneur at heart, and mother of five children.
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