No surprise from Sullivan; voters should decide in April
Mayor Dan Sullivan wasted no time on Tuesday as he vetoed the Assembly's repeal of his overhaul of Anchorage labor law. The Assembly reversed its decision made in March, when it voted 6-5 to pass Anchorage Ordinance 37, which sharply curtails the power of the city's public unions.
That veto was no surprise. The mayor made his intentions clear before the vote.
Seven votes to repeal left the 11-member Assembly one shy of the eight needed to override the veto. So the labor law remains on the books -- but suspended pending a state Supreme Court decision on the people's right to vote on it, and if allowed, the vote itself. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by January.
The Assembly voted 6-5 to set the date for that vote on April 1, 2014, the next regular municipal election. Sullivan vetoed that too, and the Assembly decided to go to court to find out if that veto is legal. According to the municipal charter, the Assembly runs city elections, and Assembly attorney Julia Tucker said the mayor's veto raised a serious question about separation of powers. Dennis Wheeler, the city attorney, argued that the mayor can veto any Assembly action unless a veto is expressly prohibited by law. Now it will be up to a Superior Court judge.
• The mayor should give up his opposition to the April 2014 election. More than 20,000 citizens, three times the number needed, signed for a vote on the labor law, and it's a fair bet that none expected to have to wait until as late as November 2014 or into 2015 to vote. Further, the municipal clerk has said that a November 2014 vote would cost the city an additional $345,000, while the addition of the question to the regular city ballot in April would cost nothing. So we can afford $345,000 to shift an election to a date the mayor figures is to his advantage, but the chief of police must struggle to come up with $100,000 for extra police to curb bar break mayhem on weekends downtown?
Neither the mayor nor Assembly members should play politics with the vote. Timing for political advantage isn't honest governing but a brazen attempt to tip the scales. A reasonable person would expect a vote no later than the next regular city election. Let reason prevail.
We don't know how the court will rule on the separation of powers issue, but what about the effect on the people's right to vote? If the mayor can veto the Assembly's selection of an election date, he in effect can prevent an election for some time. Without a veto override or a judicial order, how long can the mayor delay? That sure looks like an argument against such a veto.
• City politics has gotten wrapped around the axle on this issue -- and that's the mayor's doing. Closed-door development of the labor ordinance, the attempt to fast track it and controversy about both the law's provisions and the public hearing procedure worsened the mistrust between the administration and city workers. The result? Voters have decided to take the issue out of the Assembly and mayor's hands, we have two court cases pending and the administration has made good faith bargaining with city unions tougher by killing what little trust there was.
• None of this was necessary. Sullivan could have gone to the bargaining table with considerable public support and won much of what he wanted -- but written in contracts, not in stone. Andy Holleman, a leader of the referendum effort and head of the teachers union, showed earlier this year that the city's unions understand they can't expect the moon, that raises will be modest and concessions made. Holleman and the Anchorage School District were able to fight it out at the bargaining table, and come away with a decent contract.
Sullivan could have done the same. Instead he seemed to figure that with six votes on the Assembly he could gut the city's unions. He won the first vote, but that was just the beginning of the battle. Now even two of his Assembly allies, Adam Trombley and Bill Starr, have decided this labor law isn't worth the bitter fight.
We've had too much power play and too little governing.
Let the voters settle the issue come April.
BOTTOM LINE: No more delay on labor law vote.