Sen. Sullivan says he’s hopeful about tax changes, but cautions Trump on tweets

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican, speaks with business leaders in a meeting at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Monday. His wife Julie is on the right. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said Monday his top priorities for changes to federal tax law are making sure they’re good for Alaska and that they promote economic growth. But he also said he’ll consider the size of the national debt.

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Sullivan met eight Juneau business leaders as part of a swing through Southeast Alaska this week. He sought their input as he prepares for the Senate debate this fall over changes to federal tax laws.

Sullivan said he’s optimistic about the how President Donald Trump’s administration’s policies and appointments will affect the economy. Along with the tax changes, Sullivan is hopeful about infrastructure, permitting and energy policies.

But Sullivan said Trump doesn’t always help himself. He responded to a reporter’s question that referenced Trump’s latest quarrel with Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican.

“The president’s insults or tweets … are not helpful and, you know, I’ve tried to encourage the White House to stay focused, disciplined and credible,” Sullivan said. “If we’re going to get tax reform done, if we’re going to grow the economy, you know, going after Bob Corker – who’s a good senator – it’s just not helpful.”

Congress and Trump’s administration are considering a framework for changes that include lower corporate taxes and fewer deductions.

“Unlike health care, where a lot of the issues are very partisan, a lot of the policies that have been introduced in this framework are bipartisan, or should be bipartisan,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he’ll consider the effect of tax changes on the national debt.

“We’re going back now to deficits of a trillion dollars a year, so in the last 10 years, we’ve doubled our national debt,” Sullivan said. “So, I worry about it. A lot.”

But Sullivan said the changes’ effect on growth will be most important. He pointed to the 1960s and 1980s as decades when tax cuts occurred before fast growth in the economy.

“One of the most important things, when you look at the debt and the deficit … from my perspective there’s a lot you can do to address it,” he said. “But the most important way to address it – by far – is to be able to grow out of it.”

Sullivan would like to see tax reform reduce the number of deductions and other loopholes. But he said it will be a challenge.

“You know, everybody’s saying, ‘Health care was really hard. Tax reform’s going to be real easy,’” Sullivan said. “And I don’t believe that, right? I think it’s not going to be easy.”

The business leaders who met with Sullivan came from different backgrounds.

Rick Shattuck is an owner of Shattuck & Grummett Insurance. He expressed concern over whether the tax changes would affect all businesses equally. The framework includes a top individual tax rate of 35 percent, a rate for some businesses owned by individuals and partnerships of 25 percent, and a corporate rate of 20 percent.

“Well, I think any time the rates are going down, that’s good, but I question why the tax code should pick winners and losers,” Shattuck said.

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. CEO Angela Rodell said she’ll be watching how other countries react to changes the U.S. makes. For example, if Congress closes loopholes that benefit foreign investors, other countries could react by closing their loopholes that benefit the permanent fund.

Sullivan will also visit Sitka and Ketchikan this week. He also met with Alaska Airlines executives in Seattle during this trip.