I was working with a customer at the shop on Saturday. Nice guy; pleasant to work with. Then I learned that he was a lobbyist, representing a diverse group of clients. Doesn't matter who. We were talking about something and I don't know how we got on the topic of taxes. But Alaska doesn't have a tax, he said. No, I conceded, not directly out of our checkbooks (for those who still use checks now and then). But there are other ways we pay for things that make them feel like taxes. For example? he invited.
Not the typical conversation I get into when helping someone pick out shoes for their new mountain bike. I had to think fast of an example. And so, I began: In basic introductory economics, we learn the idea of opportunity cost. What we spend on one thing prevents us from spending on something else. We spent millions in public money on a jail we can't afford to open; how much on a ferry that has no docks between which to sail. Yet, thousands of Alaskans have no health insurance. For all the money we've spent on those and other projects that have received federal and/or state funds, we could have funded coverage for all those people.
The "tax" is how much more my employer has to pay in premiums. It's how much more I have to pay out-of-pocket before I've reached my deductible ($2,000). It's how much more each of us is charged to help cover uninsured individuals. And I'm one of the lucky ones: working retail and getting benefits is a rarity.
I know people who work hard, but whose employers don't provide any benefits. For many small businesses that do, the costs are becoming very high and they may end up canceling their coverage.
The lobbyist didn't give me his view of my opinion. Maybe he'd never looked at it that way; I don't know if I'd ever looked at it that way. But if nothing else, if I could influence the person who talks to the people who make the laws, who knows? If you never speak up about what's important to you, nothing will ever happen. I think everyone in our country, no matter their income of job status, should have access to affordable, quality health care. Nothing radical about that. Is there?
On a side note, the day after I began writing this, an article appeared in the paper about yet another Alaskan project that has gone over budget and will now be scaled back because it's harder to get federal funds for these kinds of large projects. More opportunity wasted. Such a shame.