Kelty On Dunleavy's Plan For Fish Taxes: 'The Scuttlebutt Is That It's Not Going To Happen.'

Feb 25, 2019

Workers inspect pollock at UniSea's processing plant in Unalaska. The state currently splits tax revenue from commercial fisheries with coastal communities that receive and process the catch.
Credit Sarah Hansen/KUCB

Mayor Frank Kelty is cautiously optimistic that Unalaska will hold onto its share of fish taxes.

Last week, Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed legislation that would allow the state to keep millions of dollars in tax revenue from commercial fisheries instead of splitting it — as the state currently does — with coastal communities that receive and process the catch.

As home to the nation's top fishing port, the City of Unalaska stands to lose $8.3 million under the proposal — or about 27 percent of its total projected revenue.

But Kelty said there's not a lot of support for the idea in the Legislature.

"The scuttlebutt we're hearing from legislators is that it's not going to happen," he said. "When you look at where some of the power players are [from] in the Senate and the House, a lot of them are in fishery-dependent communities."

In the House, Kelty pointed to Speaker Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, who represents Unalaska and Bristol Bay. In the Senate, he pointed to Sitka's Bert Stedman, who co-chairs the finance committee.

"We have a lot of power senators and House members, and that will be very important for us to try to overcome anything that happens," he said. 

While Kelty doesn't expect Dunleavy's proposal to pass in its current form, he said lawmakers could adjust the revenue-sharing formula to send more money to the state. 

"You never know," he said. "They could do something. They could rearrange the arrangement. Maybe instead of getting 50/50, it might be some different calculation. So there could still be impacts that we'd face."

Kelty said those potential impacts would ripple throughout Unalaska.

In addition to city government, he said the lost revenue would hurt local public schools and nonprofits, which received $5.4 million in city funding this fiscal year.