Alaska mayors again plead for Legislature to fix deficit

For the past two years, mayors across Alaska have pleaded for the Alaska Legislature to do something — anything — to solve the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit.

On Wednesday, they started the third year of what is expected to become an increasingly vocal campaign.

“We’re not just going to sit anymore,” said Kathie Wasserman of the Alaska Municipal League and Alaska Conference of Mayors.

“We have tried resolutions, we have tried letters, and I think the mayors are frustrated,” she said.

In a letter signed by Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel (also vice president of the Conference of Mayors), the mayors are asking for some kind of progress in the upcoming special session to be held in Juneau.

On the special session agenda is a payroll tax proposal offered by Gov. Bill Walker. A crime bill is also on the agenda.

By phone, Kassel said the mayors know that if the Legislature doesn’t act, costs will be passed to their cities and boroughs. They, in turn, will pass those costs via property taxes and sales taxes to residents who demand services.

That has already happened in some areas, particularly school debt reimbursement, he said. The state used to pay half the cost of construction and major renovations. Now, it pays nothing.

“The costs of inaction are very significant for local municipal governments and we also want them to be aware that when they are pushing down costs to local municipalities, that isn’t really a cost savings or reduction to taxpayers in the state,” Kassel said.

The mayors are asking for a “three-legged stool” to solve the deficit. That includes budget cuts (which have already happened), spending from the earnings of the Permanent Fund, and revenue generation.

“We understand that revenue generation is a big word for tax, and we understand that’s going to impact our communities,” Kassel said. “However, the three-legged stool, to stand up, needs a little of all three things.”

The mayors are still drafting their campaign to make the message clear, Wasserman said, but the plan to press forward was approved unanimously at the last state meeting.

City and Borough of Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch didn’t attend the meeting where the mayors agreed upon their strategy, but he has no doubts about it.

“That’s a no-brainer for us,” he said.

Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

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