Anchorage voters continue bipolar politics: Spend, but don't tax

Anchorage continued recent history of bipolar results in local elections Tuesday night -- showing a complete lack of understanding of the current fiscal crisis being endured by the state of Alaska.

While none of the results were all that surprising, they do point toward an Anchorage divided by ideology and clearly lacking an eagerness to slow down spending and protect the city from the impending economic downturn.

In South Anchorage and Eagle River, Anchorage elected two conservative candidates -- John Weddleton and Amy Demboski, both of whom promise to keep spending minimal and supported closing the gap in the tax cap that allowed a higher level of taxation. Anchorage voters also overwhelmingly passed Proposition 8, which limits the ability of the Assembly to raise property taxes.

However, in every other race liberal candidates won the night -- giving the Assembly a left-leaning makeup once again.

Eric Croft, Forrest Dunbar and Dick Traini won their respective races, and David Nees, the only conservative option for the Anchorage School Board, finished in third place in his contest. Anchorage voters also approved all of the bond propositions, except for the school improvements bond.

It's interesting looking at the results as a whole, trying to decipher the psyche of the Anchorage voter.

The electorate decided that they do not want to pay anything more in taxes than what they are currently paying. However, they do want the quality of life improvements that come from the bonds that were approved and that will be ensured by a liberal majority on the Assembly working with Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.


Basically, the residents of Anchorage want to have their cake and eat it too.

The Anchorage electorate is in for a rude awakening, an awakening that is coming soon. Declining oil revenue spurred by declining production as well as a dramatic drop in oil prices has created the perfect storm for Alaska's current fiscal crisis.

Because of the impending doom Alaska's economy is facing, a series of spending cuts have been undertaken in the Legislature, including pending bills which would cut municipal revenue sharing. While Anchorage's economy has seemed strong, cuts to state government will lead to the local governments paying more for their own services.

This does not bode well for a city that just approved six bond propositions and is seemingly supportive of spending, but not taxation. A proposition implementing a sales tax on marijuana did pass on Tuesday. However, this proposition created a fairly moderate new tax on a new industry.

What the future holds for Anchorage's economy is yet to be seen. One thing is for sure, the new progressive Anchorage Assembly, with a similarly left-leaning mayor's office is not going to hold the line on spending in the same way that a more conservative local government duo would.

I'm in favor of quality of live improvements in Anchorage. Last year I voted for Andrew Halcro for mayor and then voted for Ethan Berkowitz in the runoff. I was also very supportive of Mayor Berkowitz appointing Halcro to the Anchorage Community Development Authority. I think the hard work of these two men is going to lead to an immediate renaissance in downtown Anchorage this summer and will also lead to similar improvements in Fairview and Mountain View, making Anchorage a much more livable city.

Even though we are in for some difficult times, that doesn't mean that with some fiscal restraint, that we shouldn't make quality of life improvements in Anchorage. However, Tuesday's results did not really show that the Anchorage electorate is ready for some level of fiscal restraint.

A positive note about Tuesday's election, which also bodes well for decisions to be made, is that it was a very clean election. Minus a few jabs here and there, candidates across the board ran very clean, issues-based campaigns. We can be assured that the men and women running our local government are quality people, and you honestly cannot ask for more than that.

Actions by the Legislature in the next couple of years will have a lot to say about the future of spending and projects in Anchorage. One thing is clear after Tuesday, however: The Anchorage voter still wants a very livable city, but is still in denial about how to pay for it.

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

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Mike Dingman

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