Use fiscal common sense and vote no on Prop 2

Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2010

What would you say to a car dealer that could only offer you the truck on the lot least likely to be qualified for the rebate program? What if, in order to finance this truck, you had to defer all other personal or home improvement projects for 10 years?

By now, you'd probably be telling this car dealer where to take a leap. If not, you might go along just enough to learn that this truck you're so enamored with is really an SUV. By now you're likely to just walk away from this loser deal promising to tell all your friends to stay clear of the car dealer.

In essence, the proposal to build a bridge to north Douglas at Sunny Point is the same type of deal, only this time the dealer is the Safe Affordable Future Efficient, or SAFE, Committee trying to sell you a causeway (not a bridge) by getting Proposition 2 on the Oct. 5 ballot. If you think of acquiring the routine federal and state permits as equivalent to qualifying for a rebate program making the truck affordable, then this analogy fits.

First, there are two other crossing options to north Douglas that are more apt to be permitted and thus clear the way for federal fuel tax revenues which would substantially lessen the costs to Juneau taxpayers. Both alternative options achieve the goals of improved safety and access without blocking navigation. These are crossing options at Vanderbilt Hill Road and Salmon Creek. The Salmon Creek area provides an alternative outside the Mendenhall State Game Refuge boundaries. Vanderbilt has been studied through a public process and selected by the City Assembly as its preferred crossing site. Certainly, these two options should be considered before committing to a 10-year sales tax. But the ballot language is limited to the option least likely to be permitted and eligible for federal funds - Sunny Point.

If this doesn't make you question the fiscal wisdom of Ballot Proposition 2, then consider what economists call the "foregone opportunity costs": those things that you can't purchase. According to Craig Duncan, the city's finance director, the city has relied on the 1 percent temporary sales tax levy to fund specific capital projects since 1997.

Projects that have been funded from the temporary levy include the police station, school repair and improvements, improvements at Bartlett Regional Hospital, construction of an ice rink, areawide sewer infrastructure and expansion, airport renovations, harbor expansion and parking garages. All of these types of essential community projects would be off the table for at least 10 years, assuming the low cost estimate is correct. Is this one project worth so high an opportunity cost? Would you give up building that new deck, installing a more efficient furnace, and all of your other large project needs for 10 years just to be able to afford the non-rebate eligible truck? Probably not.

But perhaps you're so enamored with this truck the opportunity costs don't deter you and you go in to close the deal. Only you learn that the dealer no longer has trucks and you are really buying an SUV. Now you've got to be hopping mad. Well, it turns out that the bridge to Sunny Point is really a fill causeway that will change the hydrology of the refuge and not allow boats with any masts to pass under.

Conveniently, a bridge to Sunny Point sounds better to voters than a causeway. The recent article by Rick Shattuck, chairman of the SAFE Committee tries to paint this proposition as a development versus environment issue when it really is an issue of fiscal responsibility with other significant factors to consider. This is what I learned by digging into an issue the same way I would before buying a truck, err, I mean SUV. It's not worth walking away from two crossing options that are more likely to get permits and federal funds. It's certainly silly to leave potentially $500 million of federal fuel tax (what the state of Alaska annually receives) on the table. And above all, it's not worth the opportunity cost of essential community projects for the next 10 years. Use your fiscal common sense, and vote no on Proposition Two! Walk away from it the same way you would walk away from a raw car deal.

• Troll is a long-time Alaskan with over 18 years engagement in fisheries and coastal policy.

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