Paul Jenkins: One sure thing in city politics - taxpayers finish last

Paul Jenkins

You have to love politics to pay attention to what is going on with Anchorage Ordinance 37, the controversial and overdue rewrite of the city's labor law. If not, there is no way you could take enough showers to feel clean. This is what you need to know: If you are the average property taxpayer, there is a very good chance you are going to get hosed, no matter what.

The rumors, innuendos and jibber-jabber ricocheting among insiders add up to this: Dan Coffey wants to be mayor and is the evil puppet master pulling all the strings behind scenes, or he is not. Mayor Dan Sullivan is trying to trade a veto of any repeal of AO37 for his $10 million tennis courts, or he could not care less. Or AO37 has to go, soon, to ensure the Assembly keeps its right-tilting majority and Assembly Chairman Ernie Hall becomes mayor eventually -- although there is no indication he wants to be. (He seems smarter than that.) Take your pick. There are other theories, but good grief.

The ordinance is the ugly spawn of power politics, a political albatross despite its being exactly what this city needs. Former Mayor and now-Sen. Mark Begich gave away the farm to the city's unions to support his odd, federally blessed run against Ted Stevens. Democrat Begich handed the unions lengthy, fat contracts and schlepped off to Washington to be an Obama guy. Taxpayers got the tab.

There is a doctoral thesis in all this. Roughly handled, AO37 offended even the normally comatose public. The ramifications in April's election may be serious. Many on both sides of the political aisle want it to be a vague, unsettling memory -- like auntie Alice keeling over into the mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving -- when April rolls around. Nobody needs or wants grief from an irritated public or city unions with horse-choking bankrolls.

If you will recall, Mayor Dan -- now candidate for Lite Guv. Dan -- rammed AO37 though the Assembly in March. There was not much public prep, no sales pitch, no grinding off rough edges. It was changing the union landscape, abolishing strike rights, altering contract length, setting new pay rules and introducing "managed competition" making unions compete with private interests for certain work. It was a 6-5 neutering.

Surprise! The unions went nuts, storming the polls the next month. Sullivan-backed candidates got mangled. It nearly cost Assembly Chairman Ernie Hall, a longtime Sullivan ally, his job to a wackdoodle write-in. The backlash cost Cheryl Frasca her Assembly bid. She would have been the best fiscal thing to ever happen to this city. Dick Traini against all odds beat Andy Clary by a wider-than-expected margin.

Union supporters twice tried to put the overhaul to a public vote; twice the city rejected them, saying AO37 is immune to referendum. The unions sued, won and forced a vote. The Assembly is deciding when. The city's Alaska Supreme Court appeal is pending.

Out of the blue Oct. 9, as the Assembly tried to hash out a date for the vote -- April's municipal election or later -- Traini, a union supporter, stepped up to offer a repeal measure.

He appeared to have a majority. Supposed conservative Assemblyman Bill Starr surprisingly asked to co-sponsor -- reversing his prior position. Adam Trombley, another conservative, said he was "worn out" and said something about "potentially" supporting Traini. He quickly changed his mind.

A neat Assembly repeal now would make the ordinance go away and taxpayers could go back to paying too much. It would force Sullivan to veto or face unhappy conservatives next year. (Wouldn't you like to hear the conversation between Sullivan and Hall if there were no veto?)

A veto likely would stick as Trombley sees the big picture -- tennis, anyone? -- and Assembly members Chris Birch, Jennifer Johnston, Amy Demboski and Hall are expected to stick. There are not -- by optimistic counts -- eight votes to override a veto. The idea for the majority, then, is to keep the question off the April ballot on Tuesday, save Trombley and move a public vote far into the future.

The politics rage. No matter which theory you like -- puppeteer, trading votes, self-interest -- this is clear: If you are a taxpayer you are the furthest thing from these people's minds.

You are going to get hosed.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the

Paul Jenkins