Alaska mayors join to protest state funding cuts

Posted: Friday, January 28, 2000

The state of the union may be terrific but the state of Alaska's municipalities is not - at least according to the state's mayors.

Several dozen gathered at the Capitol on Thursday to publicize their complaints about past and possible future cuts in state funding to local governments.

The city and borough leaders also expressed their fears about a property tax cap initiative that will appear on the statewide ballot in November.

Savoonga's 47-year mayor, Jerry Wongittilin, has had to slash his village's government workers' hours by 50 percent because of the cuts. And there is no local remedy for the village of 600, he said. ``In Savoonga, we're too poor to pay more taxes.''

Hoonah Mayor Albert Dick said his village's latest budget came up $140,000 short.

Sand Point's 1956 fire truck has a hole in it and doesn't hold any water. ``These cuts are devastating the smaller communities,'' said Sand Point Mayor Glen Gardner Jr.

The state's larger communities are coping by raising taxes and dipping into reserves, said Alaska Municipal League President Kevin Ritchie.

``But a large number of legislators are now seeing the impacts,'' he said.

How seeing the impacts affects legislators varies considerably, however, even among Juneau's delegation.

Republican Rep. Bill Hudson said he had been watching the mayors' testimony. He and other legislators had ``led the charge'' during the last legislative session to put together a ``long-term, combined local and state fiscal plan,'' he said.

The core of that plan was use of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings. ``But 83 percent of the public said `no,''' Hudson said. ``Local municipal leaders are feeling the very same pain that legislators are feeling.''

The municipalities are facing a double whammy with the tax cap initiative in November, said Democratic Sen. Kim Elton.

``I'm pretty discouraged with the reaction (to the mayors) at the Capitol yesterday,'' he said today. ``The House Finance Committee co-chairs both said that more cuts are still on the table.''

Juneau Mayor Dennis Egan's sentiments weren't much different from those expressed by the rest of his fellow mayors. In his testimony, Egan directly attributed 4.7 mills of the city's 10.7 mill property tax - $470 in taxes on a $100,000 home - to past cuts in state funding.

Egan nevertheless expressed some optimism.

``We're making some progress turning some of the legislators around,'' he said. ``It's looking better.''

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