A grassroots effort to repair the municipal tax cap ended the first phase of the election process Tuesday, 10 Feb., when representatives of the Municipal Taxpayers League of Anchorage (MTL) officially filed their petition in the Clerk’s Office at City Hall. The file, containing about 1100 pages with ten signatures per page, was more than a foot deep and amounted to more than half-again the minimum number of signatures required to qualify for the April ballot. The MTL’s goal up to the filing date was to demonstrate significant popular support for the petition by obtaining many more signatures than required for certification by City Hall.
The MTL petition seeks to roll back, over the next three years, property tax increases that have been unacceptably imposed upon Anchorage property owners since 2003 when the Begich administration and the Anchorage Assembly approved Ordinance 2003-160, a reinterpretation of the 1983 Tax Cap Charter amendment. It removed from the original tax cap formula (as interpreted in the 1984 ordinance) any annual payments received by the municipality (payments in lieu of taxes) from municipal entities such as the Port of Anchorage, Merrill Field and the utilities.
The new interpretive ordinance swept aside the historical model of a lean and efficient government that was traditionally honored by every mayor and assembly for two decades. The Begich administration, flush with cash derived from its new and innovative authority to raise property taxes, eliminated the challenge of making the hard decisions faced by its predecessors while it also enjoyed an uncommon ability to fund many services that preceding administrations and assemblies could only dream about funding.
Qualifying for the April 7th election ballot will soon prove to have been the easy part of the process for the MTL initiative. In the next few weeks opponents of the charter amendment will mount a vigorous campaign to defeat it. Their tactics and strategies have been seen before, and no thing or no one will be off limits for them to use or abuse in order to win. Children and the polar bear, the homeless and single mothers, Belugas and senior citizens will all be fair game as props used to persuade the voter that the community can not afford the limitations of the original interpretative ordinance. They will overwhelm the voter with narratives of the hardships the amendment will impose on our facilities, the environment and the weakest and most vulnerable among us.
Yes, the old adage of the camel’s nose under the tent is so, so true. The tax cap was breached and the camel now owns the tent.
If the MTL attempts to win with a campaign based on the concepts of fairness and justice by asserting that the municipality unfairly and unjustly raised property taxes, the opponents of the initiative will overwhelm their campaign message with a parade of victims they claim will suffer irreparable harm if the initiative is approved. The voters will be forced to choose between what is perceived as fair and just for those innocent victims and the justice and fairness of taking money from property owners who, in comparison, are fully capable of contributing their fair share.
Moreover, although the conduct of the initiative supporters will be impeccably civil, the opponents will nonetheless portray them as uncaring and selfish oppressors who don’t care if poor children go to bed hungry or if veterans are forced to sleep under bridges. Schools, the opposition will claim, will suffer dire consequences leading to lower graduation rates and plummeting standardized test scores. Every priority, they will herald, that the previous administration supposedly struggled to fund will be at risk of becoming blighted or cut completely if the proposal is passed. Moreover, the unions will go the full monty to defeat the initiative due to the threat it will present to salary and wage growth, as well as concessions it may force them to accept regarding working conditions and benefits.
If, however, the MTL deploys a strategy that emphasizes the municipal government’s infringements on the freedom and liberty of a large segment of the population, rather than the concepts of what is fair or just, they can effectively neutralize the opposition’s demands for fairness and justice with stark examples of the perils associated with a society that seeks fairness and justice at the expense of those exceptional American values of freedom and liberty. An American, if forced to choose between liberty and freedom, or what is deemed to be fair and just, will value liberty and freedom above fairness and justice. The principles of freedom and liberty are virtually non-negotiable. On the other hand, negotiations and arbitrations for fairness and justice occur so frequently that they regularly go unnoticed. Life is not always fair or just, but many among us and before us have made considerable sacrifices to protect freedom and liberty.
The authority to tax, and how that tax is computed, was agreed upon by the citizens and representatives of the government in 1986. Briefly stated, the taxpayer assented to the government’s limited taking of a portion of their liberty and freedom, in the form of tax dollars (a measure of his liberty and freedom), to enable government the ability to provide essential services for the community. The citizen, via the tax cap, demanded in return that the government provide quality services with the limited revenues provided, or to seek approval from the voters if more of the taxpayer’s liberty and freedom were deemed necessary to provide those services. The tax cap was an instrument with which the citizen prevented the government from abusing its power to encroach upon the liberty and freedom of its constituents.
The MTL initiative will restore the citizen’s inalienable right to determine how much liberty and freedom they are willing to cede to the government. As apposed to the recent actions of the municipal government, when someone or some group of people thought it was a fair and just to infringe upon the liberty and freedom of many of their constituents, the MTL initiative will reassert the principle that the government’s job is to protect liberty and freedom rather than to take them and to grant them.