OPINION: Assembly’s lack of vision dooms solutions

  • Anchorage Assembly members listen to public testimony on proposed tax measures during an assembly meeting on Tuesday evening, Jan. 28, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The Anchorage Assembly held a town hall Jan. 7 at the Loussac Library to present both the city’s current budget situation and three different sales tax proposals it will consider for the April municipal ballot at its Jan. 14 meeting.

Not up for debate as of yet is the citizen-led Project ‘20s, which proposes a 3 percent sales tax to last no more than five years to address homelessness, improve vital infrastructure and build long overdue amenities for the city’s Downtown district.

Project ‘20s campaign manager Moira Gallagher was given just two minutes to speak and so far no Assembly member has been willing to sponsor the initiative with an apparent general consensus it is not ripe for consideration having just been formally rolled out in the last few weeks.

That may be a valid critique, but remains no excuse for the members, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and would-be mayor and current member Forrest Dunbar to offer nothing more than a repeat of the alcohol tax that failed spectacularly last April or tilting at a Quixotic windmill of a “community dividend” drawn from the Alaska Permanent Fund that has chances of emerging from the Legislature roughly equal to the recent subzero temperatures across Anchorage.

Only the most optimistic, or delusional, could leave the meeting with any sense that Anchorage is closer to becoming more self-sufficient after years of cuts to state funding for both operations and the capital budget.

Dunbar contended he and fellow sponsors Felix Rivera and Austin Quinn-Davidson have improved on their alcohol tax proposal that went down in flames last year, yet the tax remains stuck on one group of people and an open-ended money pit that contains no goals, no measurables and, most importantly, no accountability.

K&L Distributors President Don Grasse vowed to defeat the alcohol tax once again while reiterating the industry’s general position that it is not opposed to a broad-based sales tax.

Suite 100 owner Kelly Nichols also pointed out the silliness of the Assembly’s fixation on only taxing alcohol by asking why not tax all beverages.

“Do you know how much coffee we drink in this town?” he asked.

Unlike some Assembly members and the mayor, Grasse’s and the industry’s position is reasonable.

They refuse to accept the premise that consumers of alcohol should bear the burden for paying for the irresponsible decisions of others; based on last year’s vote, a majority of the public agrees with them.

We can either be a community willing to tackle these problems together or we can have the mayor and the liberal majority on the Assembly attempt to pin the cost for solutions on one group of residents.

Sin taxes are the laziest and least imaginative ideas, which makes it unsurprising politicians keep trying them.

The Assembly doesn’t even need to be as creative or forward-thinking as Project ‘20s. A one-penny sales tax would raise about $25 million per year compared to the $11 million to $15 million estimated under the 5 percent alcohol tax.

Half the revenue could be dedicated to homeless services and treatment and the other half could go to property tax relief.

Even the most ardent anti-tax crowd would be hard-pressed to argue that is an undue burden when it would still be one-third the size of Wasilla’s sales tax.

But that gets us no closer to actually building the Anchorage of the future and until we have political leaders willing to exhibit such a vision instead of continuing to take the easy way out we’ll be doomed to yet another year without solutions to our most pressing problems.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
01/29/2020 - 10:46am