Sen. Dennis Egan is winding down his final term representing Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Gustavus in the Alaska Legislature.
The Democrat spoke at a Juneau Chamber of Commerce function Thursday, likely one of his final public speaking engagements as an elected official.
Free of re-election concerns — “What can you do to me, fire me?” he said, joking with the chamber.
The outgoing state senator waded into two major policy issues making knees jerk for years: the Alaska Permanent Fund and a state income tax.
“We got out with a larger PFD than last year,” he said. “A lot of folks don’t like the amount. But as a person born and raised here, what did you do to earn that amount?”
Lawmakers this year cut the permanent fund dividends to be paid to Alaskans from about $2,700 to $1,600 to help support state government. They also restructured the fund in a way that’s expected to reduce dividends from the old formula, and keep the dividend sustainable.
Then Egan pivoted to income taxes.
He recalled working in Juneau as a box boy in the freezer at the Foodland grocery for $1.25 an hour.
“I got my paycheck and I went home, and I was madder than hell at my dad.”
His dad was Gov. Bill Egan.
“I said, ‘What is this? They took $10 out for education tax.’ He says, ‘That’s your privilege of going to school. Pay more attention.’”
He’s come around on income taxes since his youth.
“Some of you don’t like it, but I really think that we ought to go back to some kind of progressive income tax so all of us have skin in the game, and we understand and pay more attention on where our resources and funds are going,” he said.
But Egan wasn’t optimistic the next Legislature would make it happen.
“We didn’t do it again this year. We probably won’t do it again in the next session,” he said. “But it’s going to be someone else’s fault. And uh, a few candidates in the room – blame them.”
An income tax would be one part of a sustainable state fiscal plan, which doesn’t exist.
“Because of an election year, folks are scared to death to go home and try to confront these issues. We have to quit doing that folks,” he said. “We have to answer the issue and try to resolve the problem. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road.”
He also noted a major disappointment of his tenure.
He wasn’t able to get legislation through that gives public employees an option for a pension-style retirement plan.
New employees right now have retirement plans they can readily transfer when they leave the public sector, which makes leaving easier.
Egan and others argue a pension-style option would help with recruitment and retention.
As Alaska’s capital city, the community must think beyond Juneau, Egan said.
“You have to look statewide. We’re the capital. We serve every community in the state, we can’t just be so myopic that we forget everyone else,” he said. “We’re the seat of government to 700-plus thousand Alaskans. They’re counting on us to help them make a difference and grow this state.”
Egan was appointed to the Senate in 2009 to fill a vacancy.
He’s the most senior member of Juneau’s three-person legislative delegation, none of whom are seeking re-election.
Egan gave the incoming delegation some advice.
“We have to be nice to everyone,” he said. “We have to work with everyone, whether you’re an R or a D, or, you know, they have a bunch different names out there now – but, you know, you have to get along or you don’t get anything accomplished.”
He cited securing the $140 million to rebuild the Alaska State Museum as the Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives and Museum as a perfect example.
“That’s the only way you have at least some opportunity of getting things accomplished,” Egan said.