Voters reject financial disclosure, bag tax propositions

A controversial proposal to allow CBJ officials to opt out of state financial reporting requirements resoundingly failed on a vote of 4,288 to 1,511.

Under Proposition 1, Juneau Assembly, School Board, and Planning Commission members as well as the city manager would have disclosed their income to the city instead of the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

State law requires municipal officials annually report all sources of income over one-thousand dollars; all gifts over 250 dollars; capital gains, real property, loans, contracts and leases. Disclosure also applies to each official’s spouse, domestic partner or dependent children.

The state allows municipalities and boroughs to opt out, as long as they craft a local financial reporting law and voters approve. More than 116 communities across the state have done that.

But Assembly members couldn’t convince Juneau voters to allow it.

Randy Wanamaker – who ran unopposed for a District 2 seat – says he’s not surprised.

“It was clear to me the public believed in the APOC process and thought that city step might be a weakening of disclosure,” says Wanamaker, who has served nine years on the assembly and filled out the forms every year.

“I can work with the APOC process and believe the public has a right to be able to trust in the integrity of their elected officials,” he says.

But a number of Assembly members, including Mayor Bruce Botelho, believe the more rigorous regulations have a chilling effect on potential candidates for city offices.

It’s a complicated issue and Botelho says he expected a decisive defeat.

“I’m disappointed because of my concern about losing good people who might otherwise run for office,” Botelho says. “But I think that’s the price one pays for requirements we have in place. People put a premium on disclosure and making sure there are not conflicts of interest.”

Under the proposed CBJ ordinance, officials would not have to report the amount and source of income over one-thousand dollars.

After three terms on the Assembly, outgoing member Merrill Sanford says he’s had no trouble with the state requirements, but also believes they deter good candidates.

“For me, it’s not a big thing because I don’t have a bunch of money and I’ve lived here all my life. But for a business man I would think that it would be a real pain in the rear end to do that every single year and disclose all those accounts that you have over a thousand dollars,” Sanford says. “That bothers me that we may be disenfranchising people who may want to run to not run.”

The Alaska Municipal League supported Juneau’s effort to opt out of the state disclosure law. AML says more individuals would run for local official or serve on boards, especially in small, rural Alaska communities.

Meanwhile, Juneau shoppers will not have to pay for the plastic bags they get at the store.

By more than two to one, voters yesterday rejected Proposition 5, which would have levied a 15-cent tax on plastic grocery bags at certain retailers.

The measure failed with 4,193 no votes, and just 1,850 votes in favor.

Organizers of the citizen’s initiative described it as a way to encourage people to bring reusable shopping bags, and pointed to pollution caused by plastics.

Opponents argued the fee unfairly targeted larger stores – those with annual average gross sales of 15-million dollars or more in the last five years. And most of the tax would be passed on to customers.

Though it failed, the proposed tax raised awareness of the problem of plastic pollution, says Assembly member-elect Jesse Kiehl.

“I think there’s a chance to work with some of the stores here in town and hopefully to try and change some of the culture, so that perhaps we can encourage people more to use reusable bags, and just cut down on the amount of plastic trash that we’re generating,” says Kiehl.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford wasn’t surprised the plastic bag tax failed. But he says the conversation should continue, because the public needs to be educated on the issue.

“I know you won’t get everybody that way and it’ll take a longer time,” Sanford says. “But I think that’s the way to do it, instead of making more regulations or more laws.”