Commentary

Tax the Alaska PIGS

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A typical mess left on a typical Copper River gravel bar/Craig Medred photo

COMMENTARY

CHITINA – Alaska has a revenue problem of which everyone must by now be aware. But it also appears to have an untapped resource that has gone unconsidered: PIGS.

No, we’re not talking swine here, or at least not the four-legged kind. We’re talking PIGS: People Involved in a Greatland Smear.

Some call them “litter-bugs, but that’s way too kind a term. Ungrateful, disrespectful, slobbish asses would be a better label, but UDSA is not a very good acronym. And it’s too close to USDA, which is the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA has played a big role in the greening of the whole planet. The PIGS have pretty much done the opposite.

But all is not lost.

As with crude oil – a substance which comes out of the ground messy and ugly only to be turned into a highly valuable commodity – PIGS could be monetized.

All it takes is a little public will.

One should first note that AK PIGS are at their most active when it is warm and sunny, ie. in the summer. This makes them a seasonal resource, like fisheries and tourism. The trick with all of Alaska’s seasonal resources is to figure out ways to tap them for revenue.

Across most of Alaska, there is, for instance, a “bed tax” that hits primarily tourists, although some communities pick the pockets of visitors with sales taxes, too. It is estimated that visitors (including those from Anchorage) donate enough in sales tax to cover a quarter to a third of the annual budge of the Kenai Peninsula community of Soldotna.

The state also has a landing tax on fish, a tax which is sadly less efficient than the tourist taxes in that a lot of fish caught off the shores of Alaska aren’t landed in Alaska and some of the Alaska ports where fish are landed get little, if anything, because the fish aren’t processed there.

What happens in Homer, the state’s number one halibut port, is almost criminal. Homer in 2011 figured it was losing $800,000 to $900,000 on potential tax revenue every year because it was but a transhipment point for halibut. It tried to get the law changed, but got nowhere.

“Last year, 2.8 million pounds of halibut came over the Homer dock. That was 18 percent of total commercial halibut landings in the United States, and the most poundage of any Alaska port,” the Homer News reported in July 2015. “(But) most of the halibut that comes off the dock is sent out of state, mainly to Vancouver, where it’s processed and shipped all over the world.”

The Outside processing hurts Homer, a community with its own financial problems at the moment. It needs to find a way to generate some revenue off those fish, but that’s the subject for a whole other story. This one has to do with making money off the PIGS.

And that seems simple enough: fine them.

Institute a mandatory $500 or $1,000 fine for littering, and then hire some minimum-wage, seasonal “PIGS rangers” to patrol  litter hotspots like this one or Jim Creek or the mouth of the Kenai River during the dipnet season or anywhere else large groups of people congregate.

On Sunday here, I could have written a couple thousand dollars in tickets without even trying. Nobody picked up anything. If they were done with a lunch sack or a water bottle or the rubber gloves they were wearing to clean fish, they dropped them where they were standing. If fishing gear broke, they dumped it on a beach and left it there.

I could have been spitting out tickets like a ticker-tape machine.

Ka-ching, ka-ching

So let’s do some math:

The minimum wage in Alaska is $9.75 per hour. A minimum wage worker make $1,500 to $1,600 per month while working a normal, 40-hour a week job. If he or she wrote a couple thousand dollars worth of tickets in one day the employee cost for the month would be covered, and the rest of the month’s work would be all gravy for the state.

If he or she averaged even $1,000 in tickets per day, the total would come to $5,000 per week, $20,000 per month and a monthly net for the state of about $18,400. Over the course of three months, this nets the state $55,200.

Hire 10 young people to write tickets at 10 PIGS hotspots, and you could bring in a half million dollars.

Granted, this  wouldn’t fix the state’s massive, $3.5 billion budgetary problem, but it would generate revenue until it didn’t, which would hopefully happen as people wised up to the idea there is a price to pay for dumping their crap everywhere.

Long term, such a culture shift  would be a commendable goal. Short term, the state would make some money. It might even be able to up the revenue stream by adding commissions to the minimum-wage jobs. Maybe structure wages so that if you write more than $5,000 worth of PIGS tickets in a week, you get 20 percent of any additional revenue over and above.

I’d almost go for that job.

And maybe we could sweeten it further, and increase state revenue, by adding some other low-level crimes for which the PIGS rangers could write tickets. Many sport and personal-use fishing violations could slide into this category.

It doesn’t make much sense to pay the salary and benefits a blue-shirted Alaska State Trooper earns to have a brown-shirted Alaska Wildlife Trooper chase people down for catching a few fish more than the limit or fishing where not allowed when these same Wildlife Troopers could be out chasing commercial fishermen who catch hundreds or thousands of fish when they decide to break the law.

But the petty criminals still need to be caught.

I watched a personal-use dipnetter drag two king salmon back to his car on Monday even though the dipnet season for kings had been closed by emergency order a day earlier. That violation could have been good for a couple $110 citations at present rates. And who knows how many people fishing on Sunday and Monday didn’t legally and properly log their catches, which would be good for even more fines.

The existing system for law enforcement in Alaska can’t really afford to enforce these misdemeanors. The average state trooper starts with a salary of around $5,000 per month. That’s more than a minimum wage earner would collect in total for a three-month summer season, and this is the base pay for a new trooper.

Experienced troopers earn considerably more. They deserve it. They need to undergo considerable law-enforcement training. Not a lot of law-enforcement training is required to teach someone to ticket people for violating Alaska’s various “bad behavior” laws for crimes that really aren’t criminal as much as they’re just plain distasteful.

Think of PIGS rangers as meter maids for the outdoors. The state could use a small army of them to save the Greatland from becoming the Greatmess. And if a cultural shift toward a cleaner Alaska can be initiated while the state makes money and some young people are provided interesting seasonal jobs, it’s a win-win-win.

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4 replies »

  1. I agree absolutely. We could use a few of these ticket-writers on the Klutina. Every time my husband and I go fishing, we bring home lots of fisher person trash left behind. Are the people doing this littering brain dead?

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  2. Great posting… In the early 90’s when I first arrived in Northern Alaska it was not only the big things that grabbed my soul and kept me here but the small things.. like a ‘pristine’ environment. Being from the East coast I am used to litter everywhere but on the 65 mile drive to my new cabin home not a speck of trash was seen… During tourist and hunting season some did poop up but soon disappeared and I knew full well someone who lived out here did like I do and stopped to collect that scar on the wilderness.

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  3. Exploited, overtaken, i appreciate those days when a stoplight was a farce on the Kenai. Russian River was the home of the Bears and we were guests. Now a Native to Alaska is a minority, where will the majority lead us? Take a moment to establish your morals with our guests, most wont understand but to enlighten a few is nurturing a seed. I am hopeful that we wont have to press farther into the tall stands of trees to hold onto the Alaska we call home. To all new friends~eat what you catch, be greatful for what you see, revel in the experience and leave it not like the other 48 states. As the late Al Renk used to say “We dont give a damn how they do it down there”

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  4. The National Park Service is way ahead on this one…

    Why do you think NPS requires all full-time rangers go law enforcement (I.e. carry gun & handcuffs)..

    Because the gov. understands that tickets bring in revenue & getting cited makes folks mad…hence the sidearm.

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