Empire editorial: Local voter apathy boosts chances of capital move

Posted: Friday, October 04, 2002

Voter apathy in Juneau makes the capital move a greater possibility. The following scenario is offered for the benefit of the 12,000 voters who decided not to participate in last Tuesday's local election.

Juneau's fate will be decided in 32 days as voters around the state weigh in on whether to move the Legislature to the Mat-Su Borough.

In all likelihood, if Ballot Measure 2 passes, the entire capital will move over time to Anchorage instead of the Mat-Su Borough.

If Ballot Measure 2 passes, property values in Juneau will plummet virtually overnight. A recent McDowell Group report on the impact of the capital move estimates that Juneau in post-move mode will lose 5,000 jobs and 8,000 residents.

Many who move north along with their government jobs will discover that buyers for their Juneau homes will be harder to find than a bull moose after Oct. 15.

The more fortunate homeowners will sell their homes for a fraction of today's appraised value. It won't matter much what price range the 2,000 or so homes suddenly entering the market fall into; there will be few buyers in the market to take such a financial risk in a community in decline.

For most property owners the equity they have in their real estate has stood the test of time as the only safe investment for their future. No one can say for sure how much of this equity will evaporate, but rest assured, it will be substantial and irreplaceable.

The loss of jobs, population and property values will stand as the leading indicators of a downward spiral that paints an even darker picture. The 23,000 residents who remain will still have to support the infrastructure of a town built out for 31,000. With falling property values, residents will get the double whammy on their tax burden.

Without the Legislature, Juneau will see fewer restaurants, grocery stores, muffler shops, car dealers; downsized medical resources; degradation of our school system; and reduced barge, air, ferry, and public transportation. Juneau's churches and nonprofits also will have fewer people and resources to support them.

Tourists will find a community with crumbling sidewalks and unkempt buildings less attractive to visit. The spiral will be impossible to stop as our children will find little here to build a future upon, and hope for outside investment will be slim indeed.

Adding to this woeful picture is the fact that all of Southeast Alaska will suffer along with Juneau as our proportionate representation in state government will shrink, forever sealing our status as a second-class region of the state.

The last capital-move effort in 1994 was defeated by just 20,000 votes. The margin in 1982 was even closer. Since 1994 the pro-move portions of the state have gained 55,000 residents while Southeast Alaska has gained only 7,000.

Many of our neighboring communities in Southeast already have felt the sting of decline. This time around, Juneau can anticipate less support from the rest of Southeast Alaska. The math in the coming election very well might not work out for us.

It would be sad to allow the Initiative to pass on a thin margin that could have been overcome if Juneau's apathetic had just voted.

This message likely will not reach most of the folks it is targeted to, but you can help. Between now and Nov. 5, talk to your family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers on the street about the importance of their vote.

Offer to give someone a ride to the polls. Remind people that they don't even have to go to the polls on Election Day. In Juneau, you can vote in person absentee beginning Oct. 21 at Nugget Mall or the "Spam Can" downtown. Watch this newspaper for more information on absentee voting.

Don Smith



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