October 22: Juneau Empire on property tax cap initiative:

Posted: Monday, October 23, 2000

With a notable exception, persuasive arguments are being made on both sides of statewide ballot measures that range from hemp to hunting. The exception is the lack of positive persuasion provided by supporters of Ballot Measure 4, the tax cap initiative.

Because their proposal calls for change, the measure's backers should be able to tell Juneau residents why they and other Alaska voters will be better off capping property taxes at 10 mills (1 percent of assessed value) and limiting increases in assessed valuations to 2 percent per year. They have failed.

Tax cap proponents contend ''government taxes and spending are too high.'' In trying to persuade you to limit your local government, they use the word ''government'' indiscriminately, knowing they may tap into a segment of the population that believes the U.S. Congress is a pork palace and the federal government should be put on a bread-and-water diet. A property tax cap across Alaska won't inflict any pain in Washington, D.C.

More likely, it's not Washington that provides the impetus for the statewide tax cap proposal. This latest tax cap proposal is not homegrown. At 18.16 mills, property taxes are high in Anchorage, which has refused to create a local sales tax. Juneau has a relatively low (12 mills) property tax cap and a renewable sales tax to more evenly distribute the tax burden.

If we Juneauites can figure out a balanced approach, the same should be possible in Anchorage. There is no reason for a bunch of disgruntled Anchorage residents to retaliate against local government there by restricting the services that can be offered here.

If you ever visit a public library to check out a book, conduct research or read a newspaper, you know admission is free and the book may be borrowed without charge. Tax cap proponents say they want leaner government. Should we privatize our libraries? Charge for each visit? Shall we trim library staff, cut the pay of those who survive and give them fewer books with which to stock the shelves?

How do you feel about fire and police protection? Do you want fewer officers and firefighters, longer response times and older public safety equipment?

When a pothole appears on a road you regularly travel, do you want a quick response when you report it or do you want to be told there is a 60-day pothole-repair backlog?

In lieu of the high taxes and big spending alleged by tax cap proponents, do you prefer to 1) set aside a room in your home as the neighborhood library, 2) report the burglary of your residence to a private security firm, and 3) cook a batch of asphalt and repair the pothole?

Local government may not always get it right here or in Anchorage. Some small percentage of municipal department heads or assembly members may even be empire-builders, indifferent to the appeal of lean government. Mostly, though, the employees of local government are our friends and neighbors, and, public servants in the truest sense.

If the tax cap passes, expect pain to be inflicted in waves. First, the city's revenue stream will be diminished. Then comes the aftershock. First, Juneau's ability to issue bonds will suffer. It only gets worse. If a tax cap reduces municipal income by almost 50 percent in Anchorage, expect the state Legislature to be called upon to provide urgent relief.

Considering the population base of Anchorage and the composition of the Legislature, state lawmakers may respond generously. An outpouring of state funds to Anchorage can only mean a reduction in the flow of state funds elsewhere, including Juneau.

We could continue with these examples and warnings. We hope we've driven home the point and our concerns.

Ballot Measure 4 promises relief but in reality it will inflict pain.

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