Tax cap proposal gains support in Anchorage

Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2009

ANCHORAGE - City Hall in Anchorage is being swamped with support for a tax cap.

An estimated 13,000 signatures have been gathered and were delivered Tuesday to the city clerk's office, paving the way for a ballot measure this April.

The proposal would lower property taxes, but supporters say more importantly it would reduce the rate at which taxes increase in Alaska's largest city.

"The Assembly and the mayor haven't had to make the hard choices with our money," said Bob Griffin, a co-sponsor of the petition. "Because the tax cap has been damaged and needs repair, they've fundamentally had a bottomless bag of money."

Officials estimate the initiative would reduce the amount of taxes that could be charged to property owners by about $5.5 million a year.

The tax dispute has its roots in 2003, when the Assembly approved former Mayor Mark Begich's proposal to remove payments to the city from utilities and operations such as the Port of Anchorage and Merrill Field from the pool of revenues used to calculate the tax cap.

The result has been that taxes on individual property owners have risen precipitously, said Neil Nichols, a volunteer backing the petition. The number of signatures organizers collected in just 23 days shows people want a change, he said.

"People have had it," Nichols said. "They're sick of being hoodwinked."

Almost all the best-known mayoral candidates have expressed support for the measure but acting Mayor Matt Claman, who announced an initial round of $7.3 million in budget cuts just last week, said he's not so sure.

"I personally have questions about the initiative in light of the revenue challenges we are currently facing and over the potential loss of public services," he said.

The city is facing an expected $17 million budget deficit this year.

Claman announced cuts last week that included $2.5 million for the police department and more than $1 million for maintenance and operations. Ten city jobs will be axed and 50 vacant positions will remain unfilled.



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