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Anchorage Mayor Sullivan announces new look at city sales tax

Megan Edge

The Anchorage Chamber of Commerce’s weekly Make it Monday forum at the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage was unusually packed, as Mayor Dan Sullivan delivered his annual State of the City address while raising the renewed possibility of a sales tax in Alaska’s largest city.

Among the attendees were Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and state Sen. Lesil McGuire, who will compete in 2014 against Sullivan for Treadwell's job. Treadwell is campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Mark Begich.

Sullivan discussed the financial state of the city, as well as several controversial topics, including the beleaguered Port of Anchorage.

Possible sales tax in Anchorage

Perhaps the biggest surprise Tuesday was the announcement the city is again exploring the possibility of a sales tax.

An Anchorage sales tax proposal has been pitched four times before, failing every time. Sullivan said that could have been because of a lack of education for voters. Through Nov. 14, the city will host discussions at various locations throughout the city to explain the benefits of a sales tax.

In other cities across the United States, which have sales tax, the revenue brought in is typically put toward education, public safety and other entities that receive funds from a city budget.

AO-37: The Responsible Labor Act

AO-37, the controversial labor law overhaul that stripped power from city unions, has been a constant battle for Sullivan, who has supported the ordinance since its inception. On Monday, he expressed frustration about the AO-37 referendum, which seeks to repeal the newly passed ordinance. "Be careful what you wish for," warned Sullivan.

The hotly-debated ordinance went to  Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth in August. According to Aarseth, the labor ordinance creates new laws with extensive implications, which make it eligible for the citizen's referendum process.

"If it's that easy to do, people will take advantage of it. They absolutely will," said Sullivan.

Those opposing AO-37 have been collecting signatures since the Superior Court ruling and, according to Sullivan, turned those signatures into the city clerk's office for certification on Tuesday. The city will have 10 days to certify the referendum.

The 2014 city budget proposal

Despite frequent talk of cuts to city programs, Sullivan said Anchorage has had a budget surplus four consecutive years. "Well, you don't know you're going to have a surplus until the year is over." Sullivan said.

He said the constant comments about cuts to fire and police are merely "sensationalism" -- and it's normal for people to get nervous when the budget comes out. Sullivan credits the cost savings to "good management" by his office.

The financial plan for Anchorage this year is proposed at $5 million less than last year's budget at $421 million. Property taxes are also expected to rise 1.6 percent.

The 2014 budget won't be handed to Anchorage Assembly members until Oct. 1.

Contact Megan Edge at megan(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter @megtedge.

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