Gov. Bill Walker has tapped a well-known politico from the Kenai Peninsula to head the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.
Walker’s choice, Mike Navarre, owns Arby’s franchises in Alaska, and he has a long history of advocating for a state income tax.
Navarre, who served in the House of Representatives from 1985-1996, is finishing his third and final term as mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. He will take over Commerce at the departure of Chris Hladick, who has been appointed by President Trump to lead Region 10 of the Environmental Protection Agency.
As “nonpartisan” Walker heads into an election year as a candidate who must appeal to both the Left and the center of the political spectrum to win a second term, Navarre becomes the second Democrat that Walker has appointed to his cabinet in the past two weeks.
When Walker moved Administration commissioner Sheldon Fisher to head up the Department of Revenue, the governor elevated Alaska Democrat Party stalwart Leslie Ridle to commissioner. Ridle was a longtime aide to Democrat Mark Begich.
Now, Commerce will be headed by another Democrat Party standard-bearer, who has carried the water for Walker on his various tax proposals.
In April, Navarre wrote in the Alaska Dispatch News:
“The cold-hard-cash fact is that unless economic development produces more barrels of oil, any new economic activity and its accompanying jobs and students and road wear and tear can be a loser for the state treasury. But we can fix that as part of an overall state fiscal plan. Probably not all in one year, but it is fixable.
“New jobs are great for people who get hired, for retail and service shops that get additional business, and for communities with property taxes and sales taxes to collect the revenues needed to pay the costs of more students, street maintenance, police and fire protection.
“But lacking any broad-based state tax, such as income or sales or property tax, the state gets the bills for its share of more students, more roads, more demand on public services, but little to no additional revenue to pay the bills. That’s particularly true as more businesses are establishing themselves outside the jurisdiction of the state corporate income tax code.
“With oil, the state collects production tax and a royalty share and property tax and corporate income tax. But what about nonoil development? A widget factory? An ore smelter? A server farm for cloud computing? A new big box store? All those examples of economic development would generate sizable tax receipts for cities and boroughs but likely zero revenues for the state to help cover significant public-services expenses for the business, its workers and families.”
In March, Navarre also testified in front of a committee of the Alaska House of Representative in favor of an income tax. Navarre will serve as acting commissioner until he is confirmed by the Legislature.