Rarely do taxpayers get the opportunity to throw off the tax yoke so often and enthusiastically clamped around their necks by rapacious government, but in Anchorage they have a good shot at doing just that in the April 5 municipal elections by approving Proposition 8.
The measure won a ballot spot after its backers gathered 11,000 signatures in the blink of an eye. If adopted, Proposition 8 would change the city charter and undo the Assembly majority's monkeying with the tax cap to pry loose more revenue for even more government.
Seven liberal Assembly members -- Elvi Gray-Jackson, Dick Traini, Patrick Flynn, Ernie Hall, Pete Petersen, Paul Honeman and Tim Steele -- late last year changed the wording in the cap's complicated calculation. That action allows officials to figure collection of property taxes based on what could have been taken in the previous year -- not what actually was collected.
Basing the calculation on taxes collected instead of sheer fantasy served earlier to limit the size of tax increases, the goal of the 1983, voter-adopted cap. This year, the change will soak taxpayers for more than $1 million in added property taxes. It could be much worse -- and unequivocally will be in the future if Proposition 8 fails.
You certainly do not have to believe me. Note the cap amount for every year since 2008. Look at the actual tax collected versus what could have been collected. The new calculation would allow that higher amount every year. Do the math. The first time I did it, the magic number appeared to be $50 million a year in added taxes. It turns out it is more. Much more.
This year, had the Assembly change been in effect since 2008 and the body taxed to the cap every year instead of showing restraint, the cumulative amount of added property taxes that could be collected additionally would be a back-breaking $141.9 million this year -- not including the Anchorage School District. That would mean taxpayers, generally, would be paying an added $406 per $100,000 of assessed valuation -- or about $1,200 more this year for what officials consider the "average" house.
Inexplicably, the language changed in the equation last year was added to the calculation unanimously by the Assembly in 2011. Why the change of political heart? Why strip language that only a few years ago was deemed necessary by the entire Assembly?
That is easy. Cash money American. Although the Assembly folks who changed the language want you to believe it is about "flexibility" and a "change of philosophy."
Alaska is sloshing around in a $4 billion vat of red ink and city officials fret, with ample reason, that revenue sharing and state funding will dry up just as they have the itch to spend. Despite the uncertainty, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz built his $481 million budget with millions in sketchy state funding included. The seven who changed the cap's calculation are the same ones who approved his budget. The same four voted no in both instances: Amy Demboski -- she called Berkowitz's budget "irresponsible" -- Bill Starr, Jennifer Johnston and Bill Evans.
To make up the anticipated shortfall if state dough is choked off, the Assembly's liberal wing opted to hammer taxpayers instead of down-sizing government. That triggered an effort by 10 businessmen, city leaders and political candidates to place on the April 5 ballot the question of returning to the cap's 2011 language.
Tax Cap Defenders was formed to focus the effort. Facing a tight election deadline, Proposition 8 backers bit the bullet and opted to accept any ballot language approved by the municipal attorney to get their signature-gathering effort under way.
The ballot language handed them by the city is -- surprise! -- complex and difficult to understand. It has been reduced to "Lower Taxes -- Vote Yes on 8."
Now the question is up to voters. There will be the usual efforts by big-government disciples to fly false flags, to confuse the issue, to make voters think returning to the old calculation will sink the city. Such skullduggery already is underway, and there will be more than enough nonsense to go around before the election.
The core question is simple: Do we want lower taxes?
In the end, voters must decide whether the liberal members of the Assembly will be granted all the "flexibility" they want to have a "change of philosophy" about who has first dibs on your money.
You or them.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, a division of Porcaro Communications, headed by Mike Porcaro, one of 10 who led the effort to put Proposition 8 on the April 5 ballot.
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