Pot, pay may go on ballot

Voter initiatives cover a tax cap, minimum wage and legalizing marijuana

Posted: Monday, January 10, 2000

A proposal to raise Alaska's minimum wage may go before voters this fall. It could be on the November election ballot along with a measure to cap property taxes and one to legalize marijuana.

By this morning's deadline, the state Division of Elections had received petitions on those three measures, division spokeswoman Virginia Breeze said. The division still must verify that at least 22,716 of the names on each petition are valid signatures of registered voters.

Sponsors of three other initiatives - one to raise alcohol taxes, one to require runoff elections and one to treat drug abuse as more of a medical problem than a crime - failed to gather enough names to make this year's ballot.

Breeze said backers of the minimum wage hike turned in 23,264 signatures this morning. ``That's not a lot of leeway there,'' she said. ``They all have to be registered voters and some people who sign petitions are not.''

The Division of Elections advises initiative sponsors to collect 1,500 to 2,000 more than the minimum 22,716 signatures so their efforts won't have been wasted if some of those signing were not registered voters.

The wage initiative would raise the state's minimum wage from $5.65 per hour to $6.50 on Jan. 1, 2001. It would rise again to $6.75 per hour on Jan. 1, 2002, and be adjusted for inflation thereafter.

Mano Frey, executive president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said the group had checked that its signers were registered voters, so he believes the petition will stand. ``We don't have 40,000 signatures, but we have a cushion,'' he said.

Sponsors of a property tax cap initiative do have more than 40,000 signatures, according to Uwe Kalenka, one of its sponsors from Anchorage. That group turned in its petitions last week.

``It was extremely easy to collect them,'' Kalenka said.

A group pushing for legalization of marijuana also turned in petitions with apparently more than the required number of signatures last week, Breeze said. The division has 60 days to verify the signatures.

Petitions had to be in before the legislative session began this morning in order to be placed on the 2000 ballot, Breeze said. Those who missed the deadline can continue collecting signatures for the 2002 ballot.

If the Legislature passes substantially the same measure as called for in an initiative, the measure doesn't need to go before voters.

Backers of a proposal that would create an ``instant runoff'' election said they hope the Legislature will pass a bill having the same effect, despite their failure to collect enough signatures to make this year's ballot.

That measure would have voters rank their preferences among multiple candidates in a race. If their first choice didn't win, their vote would automatically be cast for the second choice. Candidates would have to receive a majority of votes cast - rather than a plurality - to win office. The group is still collecting signatures for the 2002 ballot.

Those pushing an increase in the alcohol tax are also setting their sights on 2002.

``It looks like we've just about got enough signatures, but we're not going to try and make the January'' deadline, said Matt Felix, a Juneau sponsor of the initiative.

``We want on the 2002 ballot,'' he said. ``We feel . . . the politics would be better. There's going to be a bigger debt and the Legislature's going to need to raise funds that year in a greater amount.''

Sponsors of the drug abuse ``medicalization'' initiative said they have only about 25 percent of the required signatures, but are still shooting for the 2002 election.



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