Juneau's economy will probably remain relatively flat during the next few years, which will only exacerbate fiscal problems in light of tightening budgets, according to a recent task force report. The Mayor's Fiscal Task Force also said the loss of high-paying state jobs to Anchorage, little growth in local sales tax and few prospects for major development in Juneau are all contributing factors that should be of concern to the city.
Headed by former mayor Jamie Parsons, the group made 24 recommendations ranging from selling off Bartlett Regional Hospital and the city's water and sewer facilities, to phasing out seniors' sales tax exemptions to charging sales tax on construction projects.
The group was formed last September to address the city's then-looming fiscal train wreck and anticipated city budget deficits of $4 million annually. Although the city's fiscal picture has picked up slightly, it's imperative we as residents get our financial house in order. If not, we could be facing a situation similar to what has plagued the state during the past five years.
We commend the task force. Their recommendations covered a wide range of potential revenue and cost-cutting avenues. While some of the recommendations are sure to raise eyebrows, the purpose of the report was to look at as many options as possible, and we believe the committee did an admirable job at that.
Obviously selling off the hospital or the water and sewer utilities are major decisions that must be discussed with as much public input as possible. While we may see a huge influx of cash initially, would we eventually be killing the golden goose? Those are areas that need good financial debate.
At the same time, some recommendations are controversial because of who they impact. Should we phase out senior citizen sales tax exemptions and those for building contractors? Again, at least we've brought these issues to the table.
Another recommendation worthy of debate is taxing cars, boats and airplanes. Personal property taxes are common charges in almost every state. Almost everyone has a car and the fees could be based on the value of the vehicle, making that tax more equitable. And we prefer to tax recreational items - boats and planes for example - before we add taxes to essentials like food and housing.
All in all the task force has offered a wide range of options for city leaders to consider. And we believe it's imperative that we begin debating and discussing these recommendations now, and start mapping our financial future while we still have some breathing room.