My Turn: Boroughs plan unconstitutional

Proposal would add an unnecessary layer of government, taxing authority

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Alaskans are very fortunate to have a great state constitution. It is written in plain, easy-to-understand language. The average citizen does not need a lawyer to interpret it. We should be forever grateful to the framers for giving us our constitution to guide us into the future.

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Article X deals with local government, namely cities and boroughs. Here's what Article X, Section 1, "Purpose and Construction" says: "The purpose of this article is to provide for maximum local self-government with a minimum of local government units, and to prevent duplication of tax levying jurisdictions. A liberal construction shall be given to the power of local government units."

Those who are trying to divide our state into 19 additional organized boroughs in accord with the "Model Boroughs" concept are misinterpreting Section 1 in an attempt to force wall-to-wall borough government on Alaska.

"Model Boroughs" is a plan adopted by the Local Boundary Commission. It is not a law passed by the state Legislature, and no elected person voted to establish the plan. The local boundary commissioners are appointed by the governor.

Here's why the "Model Boroughs" plan does not agree with the constitution.

Most Alaskans are very surprised to learn that there are nearly twice as many cities in unorganized boroughs as there are in the organized boroughs. There are 144 cities in Alaska. These are cities with state charters established in accord with state law.

In the organized boroughs there are seven home-rule cities, eight first-class cities and 34 second-class cities, for a total of 48. In unorganized boroughs, there are six home-rule cities, 13 first-class cities and 77 second-class cities for a total of 95 - nearly twice as many as in the organized boroughs. And then there are a good number of communities organized as tribal governments, some claiming sovereignty. In truth, there is a lot of organized local government in unorganized boroughs.

Let's suppose that those who want wall-to-wall government for Alaska are successful in implementing the "Model Boroughs" plan. Overnight, all 95 cities in unorganized boroughs would find themselves with a new layer of government they do not need or want. They would find themselves with an additional layer of taxing authority. Every community that decides to become an organized city in the future will be saddled with an unnecessary layer of borough government and an additional layer of borough taxing authority. In addition, every existing city and community would suffer a considerable loss of control to a huge regional borough government.

The "Model Boroughs" plan guarantees the maximum possible duplication of tax levying jurisdictions, not the minimum as called for in the constitution. The plan, far from providing "local control," erodes local control.

The framers of the constitution would never have intended for five unelected people to have the authority to carve up our great state into huge boroughs and mandate a layer of government on the residents of unorganized boroughs. The framers, intentionally, did not provide for a regional government. They did not want to pit one region of Alaska against another. That's why they wrote that the Legislature shall "provide for the performances of services it deems necessary or advisable in unorganized boroughs, allowing for maximum local participation and responsibility. It may exercise any power or function in an unorganized borough which the assembly may exercise in an organized borough."

The framers did provide for cities and boroughs as a local, not regional, government in Article X of our constitution.

• Glen Marunde is a resident of Tok.

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