Empire editorial: Sales-tax projects: Let the voters decide

Posted: Sunday, August 07, 2005

How to spend some $64.5 million in sales tax revenue is triggering angst, indecision and even some nastiness among Juneau Assembly members.

One of the big questions is how to serve up the ballot question to voters in the Oct. 4 election. The Assembly is looking at two possibilities.

One plan would bundle a host of projects - expansion of the airport, a Mendenhall Valley pool and recreation center, new sewers, harbor upgrades, downtown parking and a chairlift at Eaglecrest Ski Area - into one big package the voters would approve or reject. The sales tax would be in place for a full nine years to cover these projects.

The other plan would split up the projects so that voters could choose any or all of three options: Expand the airport; build the rec center or tackle the rest of the capital proposals. This plan lumps together the less glamorous projects, such as sewers, harbor improvements and parking, along with the Eaglecrest ski lift. How long the sales tax remained in place would depend on which projects the voters approved.

The path should be obvious: Let the voters decide.

Some argue that Assembly members are being wishy-washy in an election year and they should be making the tough decisions. They should, but in this case, we're talking about millions of dollars of voters' money and more than a half dozen projects, at least one of which is hotly debated.

Some also worry that if projects are split out separately, they may not garner enough votes for passage. But if that's the case, so be it. Democracy should not be set up to bypass the will of the people. An election should not be designed so that voters have to approve something they don't want just to get what they support.

Even if the sales-tax projects are split out into three ballot questions instead of one, many of the proposals are still grouped together. Only the two most expensive projects and the most controversial one - the Valley pool - have been pulled out for separate debate and decision-making. The rec center has drawn the most vociferous complaints and calls for support and certainly should be decided on its own merits.

City leaders need to take the Valley pool, sewer extensions and other projects to the people and let them choose how to spend their money.

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