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September 6: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on government by bumper sticker:

Posted: Monday, September 11, 2000

Legislatures are notoriously slow when it comes to crafting or revising laws.

There's undeniable attraction in the idea of dispensing with the ponderous legislative committee process in favor of simply giving voters an up or down choice.

What could be more democratic than laws drafted at the grassroots level and adopted by a direct vote of the people?

Unfortunately, it's proven to be a lousy approach to writing laws.

Not only is the initiative process open to manipulation by special interests willing to foot the bills for signature gathering and slick advertising campaigns, it's also prone to placing on the books poorly drafted statutes, riddled by unintended consequences.

The proposed statewide property tax cap, Ballot Measure No. 4, is a perfect example of the drawbacks.

Slapping a limit on property taxes might sound good to a homeowner staring at his or her annual tax bill.

But the initiative, as written, will arbitrarily skew the valuation of properties over time, and it leaves no room for municipal service-area assessments. The latter omission endangers the present system of neighborhood-ratified taxes that support, for example, desired road or fire services.

Ballot Measure No. 5, the so-called 99 Hemp initiative, likewise, is so broadly drawn that it not only does away with marijuana penalties, it grants blanket amnesty for past marijuana-related crimes without any consideration for the nature of the offense.

The remaining initiative on this year's general election ballot would restrict hunters from shooting wolves the same day they fly into the field. Setting game policy in this manner amounts to what critics call ''ballot box biology.'' The problem with the practice is that it subjects wildlife management, which is theoretically left to the state's board of game, to popular whims.

Fortunately, Alaskans this year have an opportunity to close off that invitation to emotional campaigns often financed by Outside special interests.

Ballot Measure No. 1, which the News-Miner heartily endorses, would amend Alaska's Constitution to leave wildlife management in the hands of those qualified to make the decisions necessary to ensure moose, caribou and other subsistence staples are available for the family dinner table.

For all the frustration it sometimes engenders, the legislative process is designed to examine and draft potential laws, applying the collective wisdom of its diverse members. Committees such as House Resources, Senate Judiciary, House Finance and the like each offer distinct opportunities, generally enhanced by hearings, to weigh a proposed law's application from varying perspectives. The result is ideally a compromise between a specific policy goal and the inevitable effects of that policy on other aspects of law.

The initiative process is inherently flawed; there is no balance, no representative shield against the zealous campaign from a well-heeled special interest group. Voters are instead often confronted with simplistic snap choices on issues such as capping taxes -- without spelling out the resulting cancellation of their fire protection, trash collection, or any of the many other fill-in-the-blank unintended consequences of government by popular poll.

This nation's Founding Fathers opted for a republic with good reason.



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