Mike Dingman: Maybe the mayor missed the votes - no sales tax!

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan seeks to gauge public sentiment on using sales tax to offset property taxes.

Well isn't that interesting?

The people who are interested in Title 21 and those who are hoping to be able to vote on AO-37 probably find this fairly intriguing.

There's a big difference when it comes to the possibility of sales tax however - Mayor Sullivan supports that.

He has supported efforts to have sales tax lower the property tax burden in Anchorage since he was Assemblyman Sullivan in the late 1990's.

In 2006, then Assemblyman Sullivan proposed a 3 percent sales tax in which failed with 70 percent of voters voting against it. In 2001 a 2 percent proposal failed with 71 percent voting no.

Mayor Sullivan was also a big fan of "public input" when he held his education summits in 2011 and 2012.

Education reform was a goal that Mayor Sullivan had addressed both as an Assemblyman and in his campaign when he ran for Mayor. Reducing the cost of education and providing more choice have been big priorities to the mayor and they were strong focuses of the education summits.

However, Mayor Sullivan wants to know what you think - on this issue.

When it comes to Title 21 or Assembly Ordinance 37, however, he's not so interested.

The Title 21 rewrite has been in the works for a long time. It was a project that Mayor Sullivan inherited from the mayor before him who inherited it from the mayor before him.

When Mayor Sullivan took over he hired former Assemblyman and lobbyist Dan Coffey to a sole-source contract to rewrite Title 21 - cutting the public out of that part of the process. Public hearings were not held until early this year, two years after Dan Coffey started working on the rewrite.

Anchorage Ordinance 37 was handled very similarly. The ordinance was written in private without input from the public employees or their unions, who the ordinance would eventually affect. When the public lined up in droves to object to the ordinance Ernie Hall cut off testimony before everybody had the chance to testify.

When an effort came forward to repeal the ordinance the Municipal Attorney's Office quickly ruled that the ordinance was "administrative" rather than "legislative" and not subject to repeal by citizen initiative. After the courts ruled that the initiative could move forward, it collected more than 22,000 signatures even though it only needed just over 7,000.

Mayor Sullivan is now appealing the court's decision to allow the voter initiative.

Public officials should always value public input into the process - even when public sentiment disagrees with their stance.

Listening closely to the public when they are expressing their displeasure with your policies is a large part of statesmanship. It is the better part of valor. It is very difficult to do, but it is what they signed up for.

Public officials often have to make decisions that disagree with public sentiment. Many times they have to do so for reasons that may be unclear to the public, it may be for reasons the public isn't privy to and it may be just because it is the right thing to do. However, in order for government to be responsive to the public, it must be willing to listen to the public.

Dan Sullivan says he wants to hear what you have to say - he's interested in public input. Nothing in his recent history would lead a reasonable person to believe that is true.

The mayor has done many great things in his tenure. He has been a master at turning projected budget deficits into surpluses, his education summit was a great success and created a public dialogue on education and, in the words of current Municipal Ombudsman Darrel Hess, "he has done more for the homeless than any mayor before him."

Unfortunately, however, one of the mayor's strengths has not been his ability to listen to the public on issues where the public disagrees with him. It is clear that the mayor's forums on lowering property taxes will be more of a presentation on why we need sales tax.

Listen to the public Mayor Sullivan - they have already weighed in on this, decisively and repeatedly. The answer is clear - No new taxes!

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former student body president at UAA and has studied, worked and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 90s. E-mail, michaeldingman@gmail.com.