(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.
HalloweenLights 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
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.
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