Elton keeps up flight against tax cap even after session

Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2000

Halfway through his first term as Juneau's state senator, Kim Elton is gearing up to campaign.

He won't be stumping for re-election. Rather, Elton said he's going to do what he can to convince voters to kill a state initiative that would cap property taxes at 10 mills -- or 1 percent of assessed value -- statewide.

One of the 18 pieces of legislation he's introduced since moving from the House to the Senate two years ago would have allowed local voters to raise the property tax cap if they wanted to. That bill, along with all but one of his measures, didn't make it through the Senate.

Elton, a Democrat who served two terms in the House before moving to the Senate in 1998, said there was some interest in his bill, but it was undermined by the unknown quality of the initiative. Juneau residents approved a 12 mill cap five years ago with allowances for voter-approved increases to fund specific projects.

``Right now, the property tax cap is a concept,'' Elton said. After the electorate votes on the measure, a legislative response may carry more momentum, he said.

Some measures, Elton said, get buried because of majority-minority politics. Others, he said, get buried by lobbyists.

``What is annoying is (that) some pieces of legislation, not just mine, don't get a hearing because they get bottled up in a committee because people are listening to special interests and not Alaskans,'' he said.

He points to a measure he's promoted for six years. For the last two of those years, his bill, aimed at strengthening drunken driving laws, has gathered dust in the Senate Transportation Committee. Sen. Jerry Ward, an Anchorage Republican and chairman of that committee, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The bill would have lowered the breath- and blood-alcohol level where a driver would be presumed to be legally drunk from 0.10 to 0.08.

The bill Elton got through the Legislature provides that Alaska health facilities use needles designed to offer greater protection from accidental needle pricks than standard hypodermic needles. The bill also will mandate that hospitals keep a log of accidental needle sticks, which can lead to accidental infection or expensive testing to screen for possible infection.

Being in the minority does make it harder to win approval of legislation, Elton said. Stopping bills is easier, he said.

It may be easier to get legislation through committees and in front of the full Senate next year, Elton said.

With five of the 20 Senate members retiring, and with five others up for re-election, Elton said the current political mix -- now dominated 15 to 5 by Republicans -- may get mixed up.

``There is going to be a culture change in the Senate,'' Elton said. ``I think there will be an opportunity for change next year. There is opportunity in change.''

That opportunity, he said, could include movement on subsistence and on a long-range financial plan to fund state government.

In January, Elton offered a plan alongside Rep. Eric Croft, an Anchorage Democrat. That plan would have brought in about $570 million of new revenues to the state by effectively raising oil taxes, upping alcohol taxes by about 25 cents per drink and tapping up to 20 percent the earnings reserve of the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Republicans in the Senate immediately said the plan wouldn't go far, since taxes and the permanent fund were both pretty much off the table.

The two GOP candidates that ran for Elton's seat two years ago, and top Republican leaders in Juneau, were either unwilling to discuss Elton's first two years, were traveling or did not return phone calls.

Bill Ray, a Democrat who represented Juneau in the Legislature for 22 years, said he's a friend of Elton. He said Elton's first two years in the Senate have been hampered, to an extent, by his party affiliation. That's something, Ray said, Elton can mitigate in his next two years.

Ray said he had a working relationship with Republicans when he was in office. He said Elton may have been held back during his first two years in the Senate because of his partisan politics.

``You can not be a party politician when you come from Juneau,'' Ray said. ``Kim's very smart. It's a learning process. Hopefully, he has learned or is in the learning process.

``Probably he was hampered quite a bit by being in the minority. It takes some doing to make friends and mend fences. Sometimes you really have to swallow real hard to get things done. You have to know when to kick and when to pet.''

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