Power in numbers: Mayors from across the state pan out budget solutions
On Tuesday, nearly 50 mayors from across the state met at the Captain Cook Hotel for the annual Alaska Conference of Mayors.
"This is one of the three times per year we get together in mass," Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle said. "We discuss concerns and problems we have that affects all of us across the state."
The conference takes place ahead of the three-day Alaska Municipal League conference which runs November 14-16. On Friday, new board members and officers will be elected, along with the finalization of the 2019 position statement of legislative priorities.
"When I first got involved in local politics, this was one of my favorite parts," Haines Borough Mayor Jan Hill said. "I enjoy the interactions and being able to talk with and get to know other mayors. One of the most eye-opening things I've learned is that the things going on in Haines are not unlike issues in other communities."
Hill was recently named the president of the Alaska Conference of Mayors and says a lot of people don't understand that if you want something, you have to pay for it.
"A lot of the problems in our state are all tied to the money," Hill said. "We are a very powerful group and we need to learn how to harness that power together. We need to educate our communities because sometimes there is a disconnect. We want this and we want that but we don't make a connection to the cost of providing that."
Hill says elected officials, Assembly's city councils and school members get it and get it very quickly.
"If you want something, you're going to have to pay for it," Hill said. "That's where we have to realize that none of this is free."
Hill, along with the others mayors, are trying to find solutions to the budget. How does the state make more revenue? Discussions revolved around taxing the Permanent Fund Dividend, online sales tax, increasing income taxes, adding a sales tax, energy and broad-based taxes.
"We have a pipeline that is two-thirds empty," Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce said. "We have issues like Prop One that clearly divide our state. We are a natural resource extraction state. I've waited for over 40 years for something to happen besides the pipeline to carry us through."
The legislature and the governor-elect will soon be faced with some tough decisions.
"He needs to be the leader to lead us through this economic crisis we are in," Pierce said. "We have some choices, it's either new taxes or new revenue and or cutting expenses. I think you'll see this governor come in and cut some expenses. Our infrastructure is suffering, delayed and deferred maintenance is a big issue. A lot of tough decisions will be made."
Pierce feels taxes are not the answer and that the state can build on its natural resources.
"We need to understand that the industry that is carrying this state is working smarter, harder and cleaner," Pierce said. "Our fisheries, Cook Inlet needs some help. I'm hopeful and optimistic about the new leadership."
Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy says he wants to back pay the PFD. It's a move some mayors are not on board with.
"For myself, I think it would be a mistake to do a back pay," Seward Mayor David Squires said. "I think we need to start fresh. When we build into our communities then we build Alaska a lot stronger."
"The big question is what is going to happen on the PFDs," Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle said. "It's early yet, and of course everybody wants everything but we understand there isn't the money to pay for everything. The PFD could be back paid but not in the way many people think. I could be repaid over four years. There are a lot of decisions to be made. One thing we know is that there will be cuts."
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