City Hall stands on a quiet morning. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire File)

City Hall stands on a quiet morning. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire File)

City slams Legislature for cost-shifting vote

Eliminating state program could cost city millions

Municipal leaders around the state have watched the goings-on at the Capitol intently during this budget cycle, especially as the governor and Legislature mull shifting costs from the state to communities.

On Wednesday, members of the House Finance Committee voted to eliminate the school construction debt reimbursement program, which shifts costs from the state to municipalities. For the City and Borough of Juneau, eliminating the program would cost the city $7.1 million for next year and $16 million more in the next five years, according to a CBJ news release Friday.

City Manager Rorie Watt, who hasn’t been hesitant to speak up this session, issued a statement Friday addressing legislators.

“It’d be one thing if the state didn’t have money. But they do,” Watt said in the release. “This is just an intentional choice to force municipalities to do what they won’t do, which is to raise taxes. Eliminating payment of school debt shifts the burden onto local tax payers, and raises the cost of living and the cost of doing business at the local level without providing any new tools to help us solve the problem.”

[City holds first budget meeting with changes to spending, property tax rate]

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has campaigned and governed with the mantra of no new taxes. While Dunleavy is staunchly opposed to a statewide tax, many economic experts and local leaders have pointed out that Dunleavy’s proposed budget shifts so many costs to communities that municipalities will have to significantly raise their local taxes.

The state and local governments have long shared the cost of major school construction, such as building new schools or improving aging ones.

The school construction debt reimbursement program in Juneau is currently paying off debt from remodeling Auke Bay Elementary School and Sayéik Gastineau Community School, among other projects. The state picks up 70 percent of the debt on these voter-approved projects and taxpayers pay the rest.

“It would be an Assembly decision on how to respond to this cost shifting, but we’d likely be considering a raise in property tax and a reduction of some public services,” Watt said. “As an example, if we solely just looked at a property tax increase to pay the state’s portion of the school debt this year, it would mean a 15 percent tax increase.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Nov. 27

In this photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB investigator Clint Crookshanks, left, and member Jennifer Homendy stand near the site of some of the wreckage of the DHC-2 Beaver, Wednesday, May 15, 2019, that was involved in a midair collision near Ketchikan. The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration should tighten rules about minimum visibility during flights and require more weather training for pilots who fly around Ketchikan.  (Peter Knudson/NTSB via AP)
Safety board recommends new measures for Alaska air tours

The board wants regulations for Ketchikan similar to requirements in Hawaii and the Grand Canyon.

Harbor seals have a face full of whiskers, which the seals use to follow hydrodynamic wakes left by prey fish; even a blind seal can track a fish this way, discriminating victims by size and shape and direction of movement.  (Courtesy Photo / Jos Bakker)
On the Trails: The sense of touch

Touch is a mechanical sense, detecting physical stimuli such as pressure, texture,… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, Nov. 29

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Nov. 26

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Sugar Bear Alaskan Treasures, seen here, was one of many artist vendors featured at the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska Indigenous Artists & Vendors Holiday Market from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday through Sunday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Indigenous Holiday Market features local artists

Market’s first return since 2018.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Thursday, Nov. 24

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A member of the Juneau Gun Club helps participants with shooting clay targets, one of many events featured at the club’s annual Thanksgiving turkey shoot. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Ready, aim, gobble: Juneau Gun Club hosts annual Turkey Shoot

No turkeys were harmed in the making of this article.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Wednesday, Nov. 23

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read