Empire editorial: Support extension of Juneau sales tax

Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2007

Each year, Juneau sees about a million "reasons" to extend the temporary 1 percent sales tax.

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These reasons saunter off cruise ships and meander through the downtown shops. They boost our city coffers one T-shirt at a time, one bear mug at a time, one Alaska memento at a time.

In short, voters should support the extension of the Juneau sales tax to fund capital improvement projects on Oct. 2 because it would allow us to capitalize on the wealth and good fortune of visitors who vastly outnumber us. We offer a fair trade: Visitors tax our resources, such as police and infrastructure, and we tax theirs.

Proposition 1 offers a five-year extension on a 1 percent temporary sales tax that's set to expire in 2008. If not approved, the overall sales tax rate in Juneau will be reduced to 4 percent.

About $43 million in sales tax revenue will be generated by the proposition over five years and made available for public projects, according to the city. Here's a list of the benefits: $10 million for a public works facility, $10 million for sewer infrastructure, $10 million for airport renovation, $5 million for the new recreation boat launch ramp and trailer parking at Statter Harbor in Auke Bay, $4 million for deferred maintenance on city buildings and $4 million for debt from elementary school renovations.

We're not just asking 30,000 Juneau residents to fork out an extra penny on the dollar when they consume. We're recruiting pennies from the Lower 48. For each resident who bears the burden, there will be help from 33 tourists. That's a nice ratio.

But let's be clear. Most of the sales tax will be paid by locals. So how do we justify the increased pressure on Juneau wallets?

How do we count the ways?

Let's examine the tax-funded projects and their impact. The $10 million to public works will allow the city to remove fuel tanks from downtown and move them to a centralized location near Sunny Point. That waterfront property could be redeveloped into a park or something that generates revenue. The $10 million in sewer infrastructure will allow for higher density housing, which could help drive down housing prices - thereby addressing one of the top threats to Juneau's future.

The $10 million for airport renovation will go in part to improved baggage claim and passenger screening, hopefully increasing efficiency and safety. The $5 million for Don Statter Boat Harbor will increase moorage and parking for the city's most popular harbor, as well as creating a waterfront park and seawalk. Can we put a price on recreation? No, but at least we know we'll fund floats for whale-watching boats and their tax-paying guides and guests.

Then we have $4 million for deferred maintenance on city buildings and $4 million for debt from elementary school renovations. Those renovations will bring aging buildings up to modern code. More efficient facilities and more classroom space will lead to a better education for students. Shabby facilities, while cheaper, come with a price.

Proposition 1 allows us to get more capital-improvement bang for our sacrificial buck. Let's put aside a few more pennies for a few more years. It's a light weight to bear, and we will have help.

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