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New revenue? Yes. Rushed revenue? No.

  • Author: Meg Zaletel
    | Opinion
  • Updated: January 24
  • Published January 24

From left, Anchorage Assembly members Felix Rivera, Crystal Kennedy, John Weddleton and Meg Zaletel listen to testimony during a municipal town hall meeting at the Steve Primis Auditorium at Chugiak High School on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. More than 100 people showed up to the meeting, which was also attended by assembly members Suzanne LaFrance and Fred Dyson, as well as Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

Next Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly will consider three new revenue proposals — one sales tax and two different versions of an alcohol tax.

Every member of the Assembly is aligned in our goal to make Anchorage an economically vibrant community where people want to live, raise a family, work or run a business. While we might not always agree on how we get to that goal, we all understand that, in light of decreases in state financial support and increases in public safety and health issues, more revenue is needed to take immediate action.

However, I am asking my colleagues to slow down and ask some critical questions of the taxes before us. Are these the right revenue vehicles? Have we considered and fully vetted all the options? What effect will these options have on the issues we wish to address? What effect will these options have on our residents and business owners? What do the proposed dedications in each of the tax proposals mean — what will be funded and what flexibility exists to appropriate within the dedication language? What happens if the public believes funds have been appropriated outside of the dedication language? Understanding that neither of the proposed alcohol taxes have an end date, what happens if we make significant progress and the tax dollars are no longer needed? Why are the proposed alcohol taxes above the tax cap and the marijuana tax below the tax cap? Should we be discussing a permanent tax, like a sales tax, that could be used for current municipal spending and to address the issues identified in the current proposals? Is the goal to diversify our revenue sources or just to bring in new revenue? Do we want or need a revenue option that captures online sales?

In order for these issues to go to a public vote on the ballot in April, the Assembly must vote on the proposals on Jan. 28. Unfortunately, this timeline is not long enough. It is not long enough for me, and it is not long enough for the prospective taxpayers, our constituents. I’m urging my colleagues to wait, continue the conversation, and to fully vet the questions above and others that may arise during these conversations. We need to dig deeper into our revenue options. Will a six- to nine-month delay make a considerable difference? No. If we determine these proposals are the way forward, an alcohol tax could still be implemented in the first half of 2021 and a sales tax will still take two years to bring on line. A delay until the fall would also allow us to see if the state takes any action during the current legislative session that could alter the municipality’s fiscal situation, for better or worse.

When considering new revenue, we aren’t just looking to bring new funds to municipal services; we are making a statement about our priorities and values. While I appreciate the opportunities we’ve had to hear from the public, we’ve only just begun this conversation. Let’s not sell ourselves short with a rushed answer, but instead take the time to find the right answer.

Meg Zaletel is a member of the Anchorage Assembly representing Midtown.

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