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    Federal-private security bill can fly

    By Rep. Don Young

    (Published: October 30, 2001)

    As chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I'd like to outline for Alaskans why I believe my new aviation security legislation would greatly benefit the safety of all Americans.

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  • Opinion
    Crunch time

    (Published: October 30, 2001)

    Bill due for city tax cut

    When Mayor Wuerch was on the Anchorage Assembly, he helped put the city into today's financial straightjacket. He supported an ill-advised tax break by outgoing Mayor Rick Mystrom, which was funded by a record-breaking raid on unspent city funds.

    By using that one-time source of money, Mayor Mystrom delivered a modest tax break without slashing city services. In the process, he knocked $15 million out from under the tax cap. For every future budget, that means the city has to either do without $15 million in services or scrounge the money from nontax sources. Since there are no more painless ways to find the dough, ugly budget cuts are coming soon.

    New labor contracts add more pain. The pay raises, which are not unreasonable, mean the city has to pay another $11 million in salaries and benefits just to keep today's service levels.

    Though the city is boxed in by Mr. Mystrom's maneuver, Mayor Wuerch says "it was the best thing to happen to city government." It forces the city to be more efficient, he says, and he's going to do that with a management initiative called Investing for Results.

    Better management may help the city do a little more with less, but it's not going to cover an $11 million hole in city services. It's not going to put books on library shelves. It's not going to put more and better teachers in classrooms. It's not going to promptly replace police officers. It's not going to improve the city museum's collections of art and artifacts. It's not going to fund last year's level of bus service.

    Anchorage threatens to become a second-class city. Where once there was a sense of unlimited possibility, a civic spirit that could overcome any obstacle, today's challenge is figuring what to do without -- even though we are the largest city in the state with the country's lowest personal tax burden. The average household's city tax payments are more than offset by Permanent Fund dividends. We're being paid to live here -- and yet so-called leaders seem to think the problem is high taxes.

    There's no easy way out of these fiscal straits. The mayor and Assembly are working to boost revenue with fees and fines, but that won't begin to make Anchorage the city it should be.

    It is important to remember how we got to this sad juncture -- and consider how well Anchorage is served by a tax cap that hamstrings the city for years after an ill-considered, one-year tax break.


    Lights on for the little ones

    Some hardy trick-or-treaters will be out Wednesday night to celebrate Halloween and bag a sackful of candy. Let's be careful with them.

    If you're driving on neighborhood streets, slow down a little more than usual and keep an eye out for roving, costumed kids. If you're settled in at home having dinner or watching the World Series, keep driveway and porch lights on so the little ones can see where they're going and step safely.

    And give a cheerful, warm welcome. There's been enough to worry about this fall. Let the kids have a Halloween holiday that's safe, fun and just scary enough to be interesting.


    Power of song

    Nobody who attended Saturday night's Alaska Federation of Natives 2001 Annual Banquet will soon forget the joyful surprise of hearing Neil Nelson sing "Amazing Grace."

    The 14-year-old from Dillingham got up at the start of the program and delivered an a cappella rendition of the American classic that was sweet and original. The song has been done so often, so well, and by so many accomplished artists that TV personality Bill Moyers once produced an entire documentary on it. And here came a dimpled kid from Bristol Bay with an altogether new interpretation, an aching lilt in his voice, and the capacity to send chills out into the night.

    Stunned, the crowd of Alaska Native elders, corporate chieftains, politicos and well-wishers rose with a standing ovation -- heads shaking, smiles widening, eyes blinking back just a touch of mist. How could this kid be so good?

    That set the tone for an evening of awards and celebration. Pamyua, the world-beat band that is one of the most sophisticated and accomplished musical groups ever to come from Alaska, was more than equal to the occasion. A traditional Hawaiian chant and a traditional Sami chant from northern Scandinavia paid tribute to indigenous peoples. You couldn't miss the power, this night, of authentic cultural expression.

    State Sen. Ben Stevens accepted an award on behalf of his father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. National civil rights leader Wade Henderson accepted another award graciously. But it was left to another honoree, Father Michael Oleksa, to capture in words the mood established by young Neil Nelson in song.

    Father Oleksa is a Russian Orthodox priest who has ministered to Aleut, Yup'ik, Inupiat, Athabaskan and non-Native Alaskans -- making a career of cross-cultural communication and understanding. The great gift of Alaska, he said, is to show that here "people can work beautifully, and speak beautifully, and live beautifully." Amazing grace indeed.

    -- Steve Lindbeck


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