Minority could rule if Props. 4, 5 pass

Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2005

This year voters on the Kenai Peninsula have been hearing about two propositions touted as being triumphs of democracy, when in fact they are just the opposite.

Proposition 4 seeks to limit the amount of money the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly can spend without a vote of the people from $1.5 million to $1 million.

Proposition 5 aims to roll back an assembly-approved sales tax increase from 3 percent to 2 percent and restrict the assembly from raising the tax without a vote of the people.

Supporters of these propositions are quick to point out that they would give the electorate more say in the workings of their government. Elected officials would be kept on a tighter leash, with voters more in control over the borough's purse strings. That's the very essence of democracy, that voters get to decide — right?

Wrong. The essence of democracy is that wishes of the majority of voters dictate policy. These propositions set up the situation where a minority can call the shots.

Both propositions require that voters approve assembly actions by 60 percent. If Proposition 4 passes, 60 percent of voters would have to OK an appropriation of more than $1 million. With Proposition 5, 60 percent of voters would have to vote yes on a sales tax increase in order for it to be approved.

Let's say 59 percent of voters approve paying for a capital project or increasing the sales tax, yet 41 percent vote no. Though 59 percent is clearly a majority over 41, it is not the 60 percent required in the proposed Props. 4 and 5; therefore, the no votes would carry the day.

That's not democracy, and it certainly isn't good policy.

It gives a small but vocal portion of the community with an ax to grind or an agenda to advance the opportunity to dictate what happens to all of us, even if it isn't what most people think is best.

There are additional problems with these ordinances, beyond the flawed voting requirements. In Prop. 4, capping borough appropriations at $1 million doesn't make good financial sense. Just as two bits doesn't buy a candy bar anymore, neither does $1 million go far in the realm of capital expenditures. If the assembly had to have voter approval for every million-plus project they deemed necessary, improvements would be delayed, possible state and federal money could be lost and the borough would incur the added costs associated with holding special elections.

As for the sales tax, the borough is in a financial crunch. Without the sales tax increase, the general fund could dip as low as $8 million. Schools need to be funded, as does road maintenance and other services. At least a sales tax increase is partially borne by visitors, unlike a property tax increase that would be saddled entirely on the backs of residents.

More importantly, both propositions limit the ability of assembly members to do what we elected them for.

Assembly members are expected to learn about the issues facing the borough, confer with the borough administration to get the facts behind those issues, study budgets, propose solutions and — perhaps most importantly — listen to the wishes of the public on these matters. After all that is done, they are expected to take what they've learned and act in the best interest of the borough, whether that means voting to build new facilities or even increasing taxes.

If they can't be trusted to make these decisions, why are they there? What's the point in holding assembly meetings, doing research and taking public testimony, if they can't act on what they've learned?

Citizens already have a means by which they can control their government — by electing representatives to act on their behalf. If voters don't like what their officials have done or propose to do, they can vote for somebody else. That's why terms are only for a few years at a time, so no official can run away with the authority they've been given.

We entrust our governance into the hands of these elected representatives. Why then would we tie their hands by limiting their ability to do what we've asked of them?

Doing so makes as much sense as letting a minority of voters tell the majority what to do.

We strongly urge voters to vote no on Props. 4 and 5.

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