Juneau voters are being asked to weigh in on three ballot propositions on Oct. 1. Having given these propositions considerable thought, I offer the following opinions.
Proposition #1 would increase Juneau’s hotel bed tax, making ours the highest in the state. As a more than 20-year member of the Alaska Committee that works hard to make Juneau a welcoming capital city, I am concerned that passage of this tax sends a very negative message to visitors who frequent the capital for government and other business. I will be voting no on Proposition #1.
Proposition #2 seeks voter authorization to sell general obligation bonds for a much needed remodel and upgrading of Centennial Hall. This CBJ asset requires periodic capital work, which I support and for which we voted previously to designate $4.5 million in sales tax revenue. The issue here is that the previously voter approved amount under this proposal would be moved as a grant to the JACC. This would be replaced by a $7.0 million GO bond (actually amounting to $13.0 million with interest). I fully support renovation of Centennial Hall, and I recognize that the CBJ Assembly has legal authority to transfer this revenue. However, I question the negative political message this sends to Juneau voters, and the ethical implications of this decision — reallocation of public tax dollars to a private enterprise. (In a recent conversation with an Assembly member about their plans for this convoluted project, she stated that those of us who might disagree with this approach were “divisive” — an unfortunate choice of words, to say the least). I will vote no on this proposition, hoping that the Assembly will reverse course, and start over with this entire scheme.
Proposition #3 seeks advice from Juneau voters regarding their plan to grant the JACC organization the $4.5 million of sales tax revenue (previously approved by the voters for Centennial Hall) as a local government contribution to their privately held prospective building in which they expect to centralize arts activity in Juneau. This may be a well-intentioned project, but there are many reasons to vote against putting any more public dollars into what is clearly a private enterprise.
The $26 million price tag would build a 44,000-square foot building, more than twice the size of Centennial Hall, which is right next door. As we have seen in previous ventures, when you have a limited population base, the success of this proposal would depend upon stealing from other venues in our community. An example that comes to mind is Juneau Jazz and Classics, which is held each spring and uses multiple venues around the community – contributing to the charm and positive experience for those attending. And, as the new JACC is currently designed, neither the Juneau Symphony nor Perserverance Theater, both stalwart contributors to the arts scene in Juneau, will be utilizing the venue. There are so many other reasons to question this project, but others have already addressed most of them.
Support or opposition to this proposal cannot be construed as liberal or conservative; nor can it be defined as whether one is or is not a supporter of the arts in Juneau. The bottom line issue is one of trust between the Assembly and Juneau citizens. Should we endorse their intent to move revenue already approved by the voters for Centennial Hall (commonly held public good) or reallocate those same funds to a private enterprise, the new JACC? I suggest that now is the time for the Assembly and the JACC proponents to take a fresh look at the big picture, and perhaps find a way to incorporate some of the critical elements of the JACC into the remodel and renovation of Centennial Hall. Are you confused yet? If so, please join me in voting no on Proposition #3, and encourage the players in this local drama to go back to the table and start over.
• Rosemary Hagevig is a 50-year resident of Juneau and Douglas and a former member of the CBJ Assembly.