SE votes on plastic bags, hydro, alcohol tax

Southeast Alaskans head to the polls on Tuesday, October 4th. They will choose city and borough leaders and voice opinions on a variety of ballot measures.

The more-than-a-dozen measures include taxing plastic bags, funding hydropower projects and dropping a senior-citizen exemption for a tax on booze and smokes.

One of the most controversial is in Juneau, where a local group put a 15-cent-per-plastic-bag tax before voters. It would only affect customers at larger retailers, such as Fred Meyer and Walmart. (See Juneau’s sample ballot.)

Supporter Dixie Belcher says the goal is to encourage people to give up plastics and instead bring reusable reusable bags.

“It’s something that is just a habit, and we can just as soon get into a habit of taking our own reusable bags. They do that in many other parts of the world. Because of their impact on the ocean they’re banned in 25 percent of the world, and they’re taxed in many other parts of the world. And generally the taxation lowers the use of plastic bags by about 90 percent in the first three months,” Belcher says.

The ballot measure faces strong opposition from many businesses and public officials. Resident Geri Swanson thinks the proposal won’t have the intended effect.

“Personally, I own several reusable bags and I always forget to bring them with me when I go shopping. I recycle those small shopping bags in my garbage in my bathrooms and some I even take to the recycle center. So, I think 15 cents is just a silly idea for the city,” Swanson says.

Juneau has four other ballot measures. One would continue a temporary 3 percent sales tax that funds police, fire and ambulance services, as well as road, water and sewer repairs. Another would pay for an energy-efficient ground-source heat pump at an elementary school. Yet another would replace artificial turf at a local ballfield.

One more would pull Juneau out of state-mandated campaign-disclosure rules and replace them with its own.

Mayor Bruce Botelho says changes made a few years ago have scared off potential candidates. That’s because they require too much information on earnings.

“The 2007 amendments require not only the disclosure of the source of the income in excess of $1,000, it does require you to state the amount,” Botelho says.

He says Juneau’s proposed rules only require the income source be reported. Critics say the current system works and keeps candidates honest. Many other communities have already pulled out of the state requirements in favor of their own.

Ketchikan voters face three measures in the October 4th election. (See the city of Ketchikan’s ballot information.)

The city ballot has a bond issue providing $15 million for the Whitman Lake hydropower project. The state already has chipped in $11 million and the ballot measure would bring the total near what’s needed.

Ketchikan City Mayor Lew Williams says it’s an important part of keeping the price of electricity low.

“Right now we pay only 9.5 cents a kilowatt and it’s really helped our growth down here, especially in some industries. And then we have a lot of homes switching over to hydro. It’s so much cheaper than fuel right now. So we’re just pushing for every little project we can and Whitman’s on the board,” Williams says.

Another city ballot measure would change the candidate filing period to match that of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s. (See the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s sample ballot.)  The borough ballot has one measure, asking whether assembly members should continue to be elected at-large, rather than by district.

Petersburg voters face three measures. (See Petersburg’s election information.)
One would sell $1.5 million of bonds to fund a new library. Another would allow the city council to declare up to two sales-tax-free days each year.

A third would repeal a sales tax exemption on the sale of alcohol and tobacco to seniors.

Mayor Al Dwyer says passing the measure would lessen impacts on government services.

“Alcohol and tobacco are very expensive for municipalities to deal with, medically,” Dwyer says.

But some worry the measure will lead to removing other senior exemptions.

Councilor Dan Hickman says it should stay in place.

“My argument from the git-go is that by the time you get to 65, if you want to continue killing yourself you earned the right,” Hickman says.

Sitka has one ballot measure that would raise the property tax limit from 6 to 6.5 mills. The increased revenues would be used to fund improvements to municipal infrastructure, such as the hospital, and its maintenance. (See Sitka’s sample ballot.)

Haines has two ballot propositions. (Link to the Haines sample ballot.) They ask voters to recall a pair of assembly members. Backers claim they violated borough law by failing to appoint a new member to an open seat.

Skagway and Wrangell have no measures on this year’s municipal ballot.

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