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Sunday, April 18, 2021
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New taxes with ‘Project ’20s’

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ANCHORAGE DAILY PLANET

While you might not ever know it from local news media, a shadowy group has formed to push a sales tax initiative, “Project ‘20s Anchorage,” onto the city’s April ballot – while dodging the city charter’s 60 percent vote requirement for such levies.

The proposal, which needs eight Assembly members’ support to reach the ballot, would impose a 3 percent “temporary” sales tax, to take effect in January 2021. It would raise $375 million for capital projects before it sunsets in five years, the effort’s website says. It promises to exempt food, gasoline – which the Berkowitz administration already taxes – and other “essentials” and even sets up a one week “back to school” tax holiday.

“The projects funded through the initiative will go towards downtown revitalization and needed public safety improvements throughout Anchorage, including added shelter capacity and substance abuse treatment,” says a flier describing the initiative.

Some of that sounds eerily similar to rhetoric some Assembly members and the Berkowitz administration currently are using as they try for the second time in less than a year to push through a 5 percent retail alcohol tax – complete with its own “one-time exemption” to the city charter.

Because the Project ‘20s Anchorage initiative is a general sales tax, the charter requires a supermajority vote, or 60 percent of the votes cast, for passage. But the initiative – surprise! – includes a one-time amendment to the charter that would reduce that supermajority to 50 percent, a gambit increasingly popular with our Assembly as it tries to dodge the charter.

The Project ‘20s Anchorage spending would include: $25 million for Downtown winter upgrade, whatever that might entail; $75 million for trails rehabilitation; $85 million for Alaska Center for Treatment; $25 million for 4th Avenue pedestrian redesign; $40 million for an Eagle River Valley fire station; $25 million for Hillside fire evacuation roads; $50 million for Ship Creek promenade and brewing district; $30 million for Performing Arts Center and Town Square Park rehabilitation; and, $20 million for a tax administration and small business assistance fund.

Who are those pushing the tax? They are not saying. “Project ‘20s is an Anchorage-based citizen- and business-led group working to advance capital projects that make our city a destination for residents, visitors, and investment,” says it website. But under “Who we are” and “Contact Us” on that website there are no names. No telephone numbers. Nada. Zip.

The only name associated with the group is on its Alaska Public Offices Commission filing: Moira J. Gallagher, chairperson. She is former director of the Live. Work. Play. program at the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. The group has not reported contributions or donations for the third quarter, nor will it have to until the initiative makes the ballot.

Like the Recall Dunleavy effort, Alaska law allows this initiative’s contributors and backers to remain secret forever unless the group rolls over into the election campaign any money collected to win a spot on the ballot.

The lack of transparency in Project ‘20s Anchorage should be enough to set off alarm bells. What we have is a ballot initiative full of Anchorage-could-be-a-garden-spot gobbledygook being peddled to the Assembly by …. who? How much has been spent? How much will be spent? Is it a coincidence that what this group wants seems to echo what some on the Assembly and in the administration want?

A cynic might think there could be linkage between the tax effort and some in city government; that Project ‘20s Anchorage is a cover, but there is only one way to dispel any of that: Who are the people backing the initiative and where is the money coming from?

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Sounds like Soros is here too! We have elected people that don’t give a heck about laws and transparency! Just sign here and read it later….sounds familiar?

  • AML is a leach on municipalities and should take a super majority vote of the people in a municipality for membership.
    Anchorage get ready for online SALES TAXES, proudly sponsored by AML.

  • I actually don’t mind paying my way, I just don’t like doing it when it is put upon me in this way. “Citizen dumb. Assembly smart”. “Let us rephrase to citizen. Let us help citizen understand what we REALLY meant.” The haughty Assembly and their duplicitous, undermining ways, like to sneak in these “temporary” and “one-time” taxes. Remember the gas tax? Probably not because they snuck it in and hardly anyone even knew about it. Where does that money go? Does anyone know? I don’t! They like to use the word “sunset”. Ya, right. And once again, the lefties want to change the rules to increase the chances they get their way. They further doctor this up with their pretty buttery language. So, while I am meandering along the $50 million dollar “promenade”, in the trendy Ship Creek Brewery District on my way to the Regate, I do hope I don’t trip over any homeless camps in front of the $85 million Alaska Center for Treatment. I have a sobriquet for this tax package but I best reserve that for my personal thoughts. I don’t want the editor to block me. It is still early in the day and I’m just getting warmed up.

  • You will never see most of those millions. Unless you’re an Anchorage borough employee!!!

  • ” $25 million for Hillside fire evacuation roads;”
    .
    We called BS… left a message:
    .
    This reads like a developer wanting taxpayers to pay for building and maintaining a road into her housing development!
    .
    …like a road-building contractor wanting to build a million-dollar road for twenty-five million!
    .
    …like city officials assuming idiot taxpayers forgot about their fire-station service reductions, which now look a hell of a lot like a cynical attempt to endanger residents… scare them into demanding their peaceful neighborhoods be paved over…
    .
    …with brightly-lit miles of “fire-evacuation” roads and all the sight-seeing, noise-making, fire-starting, trash-dumping, bum camping, dog-poo(whoops!) traffic they can handle, plus some;
    .
    …which, wouldn’t you know, according to the Hillside District “Plan”, will be forced through private properties when necessary to connect with the “$75 million for trails rehabilitation” abomination.
    .
    And there we have it, Gentle Readers!
    .
    $25M + $75M… that’s $100M for bum control, crime control, world-class schools, well-built roads, public-sector union-management teams forced to live within their means, snow-removal and law-enforcement delivered when needed, enforcement of private property rights, restoral of Anchorage’s traditional balloting system?
    .
    Not on your lives, Gentle Readers!
    .
    Now we understand why Eagle River folks and a whole lot of South Anchorage taxpayers want out of this (expl del) show, yes?

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