ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaskans might assume that the man behind the state's property tax revolt has a big property tax bill.
But restaurant manager Uwe Kalenka pays almost nothing in taxes. And Kalenka, who favors a stripped-down version of government, lived on welfare for several years in the mid-1990s.
Yet with large investments of time and enthusiasm, 55-year-old Kalenka almost single-handedly put an initiative on the November ballot that would cap taxes at 1 percent of a property's assessed value. The 40,000 signatures gathered sparked a movement that has many Alaskans cheering and many others fearing the devastation of their schools and libraries and police departments.
Who is Uwe Kalenka?
He doesn't own a home. He lives with his elderly mother in a house his brother owns near Dowling Road, having transferred most of his property to relatives years ago. He has several remote parcels of land in the Susitna Valley valued at $3,600. His property tax bill last year: $59.
Though he says he's not anti-government, he has harsh words for local government officials, who he says are arrogant and have treated him badly.
''Our public servants, from what I've seen, believe they are our rulers,'' he said recently in an interview with the Anchorage Daily News.
He avoids expressing an opinion on how city leaders should cope with the loss of tax revenues his initiative would create, whether through budget cuts, a sales tax or some other source of revenue.
''We're telling them that taxes are too high. They need to come down,'' he said. ''Now, how they accomplish that task, that's up to them.''
Though he resists talking about how the city should respond if its income from property taxes is cut, it's clear he favors austerity. He often says there are only three ''absolutely essential'' city services: water, sewer and roads.
What about education?
''It's extremely important,'' says Kalenka. ''But not as essential as a roof over your head.''
Besides, he says, the Alaska constitution says education is the state's responsibility, not the city's.
''It's the state's problem,'' he said. ''The state has plenty of money.''
The tax cap proposal, which Kalenka says was copied from California's Proposition 13 of 1978, would limit local property taxes all over Alaska at 1 percent of a property's assessed value. In addition, a property's assessment would be based on its selling price. It could increase by no more than 2 percent a year after that, until someone new buys it.
The initiative would lower Anchorage tax bills by as much as 45 percent. It would also, according to city figures, punch a $73 million hole in the city's budget and collectively cost other local governments across Alaska as much as $77 million.
Opponents say the measure will erode public services and infrastructure and make it virtually impossible to build schools or other facilities. Communities, they argue, should be able to decide for themselves how much local government they want and how they want to pay for it. The initiative will give big corporate property owners a break, the critics say, and give rise to sales taxes.
Critics also say the measure would create an unfairness with no means of recourse: new homeowners will pay much more in taxes than the owners of similar properties that haven't gone on the market in a long time.
Kalenka was born in Germany in 1944 and came to Alaska in the mid 1960s. He tried land development in the early 1980s, first in the Jewel Lake area of Anchorage and later in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. At one time, he owned a dozen pieces of property.
''I divested of them,'' he said. ''Through trade and whatever, sale or whatever. Divorce.''
In the late 1980s, he transferred land he owned to his sister because, he said in a 1989 court document, he could not pay the taxes. His brother bought the 3,000-square-foot house Kalenka and his son were living in so that they wouldn't have to move, the document said.
In 1989, the year after his wife filed for divorce, Kalenka went on welfare, according to documents filed in court. In 1994, he contested the city's assessment of his Taylorcraft airplane, saying he was indigent and listed $821-a-month welfare payments as his only source of income. He also filed for bankruptcy that year.
Superior Court Judge Elaine Andrews said in hearings related to the divorce that Kalenka had voluntarily put himself in indigency by transferring his property to relatives for little or no money so that he could avoid payments she ordered. She said she'd seen no evidence that he was unable to work or that he was a ''good-faith'' recipient of welfare.
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