Aaron Lojewski: Don’t let Fairbanks politicians overturn a popular tax cap

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By AARON LOJEWSKI

After a series of special meetings of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly seeking to break the decades-popular “tax cap” via a special election proposition, the Assembly voted 7-2 to advance the $10 million tax increase question to the voters in a special election on May 7, 2024.

Voters will need to vote “No” to protect the tax cap and prevent a large $10 million tax hike. 

The Assembly chose to put it to a special election in May rather than the October election, even though they just “found” an extra $13 million over the last couple of weeks that one Assembly member referred to as “magic money.” They know local voters have overwhelmingly renewed the tax cap for decades. They are hoping to suppress the voice of the voters who typically participate in the regular October local election and skew the electorate in favor of special interest groups by spending $125,000 to hold this special election in May.

If the grassroots turnout at the meeting is any indication, it won’t work.

Scores of citizens turned out to testify against the special election to break the Tax Cap. Based on the looks of contempt on many of the assembly members’ faces during the meeting, which started at 5:30 p.m. and lasted beyond midnight, the assembly had little respect for the will of the voters. They appeared to be caught completely off guard. Still, they pressed on with their plan even though testimony was about 3 to 1 against the proposal.

The ordinance claims the proposed increase in taxes is for education. In Alaska, it is unconstitutional for funds to be dedicated and bind future elected bodies. The state has a constitutional duty to fund education to the basic need. This means that even if all of the proposed $10 million in new borough taxes went to education this coming year, the extra $10 million in subsequent years can and will be spent on any valid expense, such as labor agreements, at the whims of future assemblies. 

At the same time as politicians on the Assembly are trying to trick local voters into raising taxes on themselves, the borough is in labor negotiations with three bargaining units. Negotiations typically wrap up in the fall of a mayoral election year, as this year is, and the contracts are valid for three years. There is no question that a large influx of new tax dollars in the middle of negotiations will invigorate the unions to successfully negotiate better compensation packages for themselves, helping themselves to the new influx of cash.

For this reason, massively increasing taxes in the middle of labor negotiations would put the borough at a strategic disadvantage at the negotiation table and in the end would unnecessarily drive up long-term labor costs. This also means that in the long run, much of these new tax dollars wouldn’t make it to fund education but rather drive up labor costs.

The tax cap has worked well over time by keeping government growth in check. It limits the total tax revenue the borough can raise but it also allows the revenue to grow with inflation and population growth. This lets the government maintain its scale over time even as the borough changes. It has frequently gained the ire of those who want to raise taxes and waste public resources. 

Official special election information is available here.

Business owner Aaron Lojewski served on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly and was term-limited from serving after October, 2023. He is a candidate for borough mayor.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Well said Aaron. The duplicity of the Assembly is evident in their claim that the funds are for education. FNSB – you want more money? Grow the economy and the economic base. Stop stealing from the existing property tax payers.

  2. Aaron,
    Don’t forget that everything you say in support of the tax cap will be used against you by Grier Hopkins. Hopkins, who has never had a real job in his life outside of politics, wants his daddy’s old job as Borough Mayor. Hopkins got his *ss handed to him last year in a House race won by a Conservative Republican. Hopkins’ support is derived from the unions (to which he is an enslaved puppet) and his parent’s Democrat mailing list which includes the wacko climate activists in the Interior. And don’t forget that Grier’s brother in law is Scott Kendall, the dirty player with bags of election tricks to foist upon opponents. Watch your back! These people are cheaters.
    Good on you for running. Expect lots of support coming your way, especially from East Fairbanks and here in North Pole.

    • The Hopkins crime family are also big proponents of legalized marijuana. That alone brings out all the backwoods hippies for Hopkin’s kid. Lots of weed fundraisers for Hopkin’s this summer. Hopefully, Aaron, you can point out that marijuana induces lots of irrationality and bad karma amongst habitual users.

    • Isn’t Grier Hopkins the dude seen campaigning with all of the kids for more school funding? Saw his picture in the newspaper with kids, holding up signs at the intersection of roads in Fairbanks. This guy is a teacher’s union employee wanting to be the mayor? And the inlay of Scott Kendall? You got my vote, Aaron.

    • NPP, do you have anything new to offer on this topic? I’m pretty sure I’ve read this exact same screed, oh, twentyteen times in the MRAK comment section over the months/years. You’re saying a “UniServ Director” (whatever that is) isn’t a real job? Seriously, I listened to Patrick Bet-David’s podcast on my lunch break today. He said the NEA has 3.2 million members nationwide. That figure was 1.3 million a half century ago. Has public school enrollment kept a similar pace? You’ll have to hit a research library to find stats prior to the early 1990s, but I’m pretty sure for decades, Anchorage School District enrollment growth has fallen far behind either population growth or the growth of their own physical plant.

  3. Thank you for your work, Aaron. FNSB has grown borough spending beyond inflation for decades. Property taxes are not affordable and FNSB employees have salary and benefits that are lavish. A sustained advertising campaign will be required to stop this massive tax hike- I hope you will be part of that effort.

    • The assessments change who pays what share of the taxes but they don’t affect the overall tax burden. For example, if you and I were both property barrens and each owned 50% of all the assessed value we would each pay 50% of the total property taxes. If the next year my assessments doubled but your all stayed the same I would then own 2/3s of the taxable value of land and you would own 1/3/ My taxes would rise to 2/3s of the total tax bill, whatever that year’s tax bill would be. The total tax bill is what is controlled by the tax cap.

    • They are messing with an already established citizen’s initiative which is supposed to have two years of immunity. The election itself probably has legal vulnerabilities. I don’t have the time or energy to explore them though.

  4. Two things. Aaron Lojewski was given ample opportunity (we spoke about it in a October 2018 meeting, if I remember correctly) to research the skewed assembly apportionment question offered decennially since the 1980s and perhaps offer a more palatable alternative to voters, but voted for the status quo anyway in the end. Electing the assembly “at-large” has allowed for a small group of supervoters in one corner of the borough (less populous than either Fairbanks city limits or North Pole city limits combined with Badger CDP) to control the political landscape of the entire borough. This reared its ugly head during the last major air quality debate, when some rather vile character assassination pitted one part of the borough against another, with a number of local leaders feeding off of it. “All assembly members represent all borough residents” is just more hollow rhetoric and the voting record bears that out. Second point, I was around and politically active during the genesis of the Interior Taxpayers’ Association in 1987. ITA had become mostly irrelevant after about five or six years, largely because of its reputation as a personal vehicle for Donna Gilbert. The Bennett brothers incident in 2011 should have finally made that obvious to even the sleepiest voter. It’s great that they continued to show up at the fair and collect signatures, but that’s all they did for years and years. Except for the span with Michael Dukes, Natalie Howard and Lance Roberts on the assembly approximately a decade ago and other shorter spans, the assembly has been solidly to the left for over three decades. Care could have been taken to avoid that.

  5. If the past borough assembly didn’t f up so bad, they wouldn’t need to raise it. But Fairbanks missed out on a lot of Fed dollars because of their poor leadership.

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