Looking toward our city elections next Tuesday, Oct. 6, here are questions you might ask yourself while weighing your choices of candidates. Regardless of your political bent (and yes, I know these local elections aren’t supposed to be partisan — but they are) each of the candidates bring a different background and philosophy to the table that will affect their view and ultimate decision on issues.
The issues below are among those I have written about in my previous columns and if you are interested in a deeper discussion of any of these subjects, you can find it by searching the Empire archives.
With the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly facing increased pressure on the budget, economic development will be more important than ever.
• With only $4 million in funding remaining for the state’s financial commitment to complete the Lynn Canal Access Road, can you identify another project that will pump $500 million into our economy, lower our transportation costs and generate new ways to stimulate economic development?
• Which of our current private sector industries (mining, fishing and tourism) have the potential for expansion? How can we encourage that?
• Is saving a “Field of Fireweed” a good example of encouraging economic growth? Or is it more important to let an owner develop their property to its highest and best use — thereby increasing our tax base and lessening any future deficit?
Despite improvements in electronic access, a remodeled airport and Delta Airlines entering the market, physical access to our capital city has remained relatively unchanged. In fact, due to budgetary pressure and our aging ferry fleet, one could argue that physical access has largely been diminished. Not a week goes by that we don’t hear about a ferry cancellation due to weather or mechanical problems. Ferry fares are expensive and because state subsidies have spiraled out of control, higher fares and more cuts are coming. Juneau residents and visitors to the capital can no longer depend on our ferry system for frequent, reliable and low cost transportation.
• Do you support investing in a permanent road link to Juneau that will increase travel capacity and lower costs for everyone?
• If you don’t support building a road link, what do you support to improve physical access to Juneau?
At one time, in the first half of the 20th century, Juneau and our region was the population and economic center of Alaska. Southeast Alaska had six legislators — a full 25 percent of the Legislature. None were from Anchorage or Mat-Su. Today, Southeast Alaska’s number hasn’t changed but with 60 legislators, our percentage has fallen to 10 percent. The Anchorage/Mat-Su region mirrors its population ranking and commands 32 seats, or 53 percent of the Legislature. This trend is projected to continue.
• What can Juneau do in the future to nurture our relationships with other cities and regions in Alaska in the face of this huge demographic shift?
• Fifty-four legislators and many more staffers leave their homes for 3 months or longer to come to Juneau for a legislative session every year. As the capital city, what is our responsibility to these part-time residents?
Housing has been a number one priority for years — especially downtown, where there is always a critical shortage. This has plagued legislators and their staff as well as summer tourism-related workers. Lack of downtown housing also impacts both of the two issues above.
• Why are we building a new park next to Douglas Bridge in a location better suited for modern, accessible housing?
• Is there an “outside the box” idea for downtown housing that would work even if it requires a zoning variance?
Our school population has dramatically decreased over the past 15 years. Today, there are 4,800 students attending school in Juneau — a 16 percent decline. Our high schools have suffered a 24 percent decline during the same time period without a corresponding change in full-time teacher positions. Budgets are shrinking in the face of reduced support from the state.
• How far must our student population decline before we seriously consider closing or consolidating school facilities and/or programs?
• With less funding from CBJ and the state, how should we approach balancing reasonable classroom sizes, program choices, teacher salaries and administrative positions?
I hope you can use these questions to help gauge your agreement or disagreement with the various candidates’ positions on some of the important issues facing our community. It’s clear that a combination of spending cuts and some revenue measures will be necessary at both the state and local level, but neither can realistically bridge the gap unless we get serious about economic development. That remains the key to a more livable and prosperous community and state.