The first point to realize is that all borough taxes (whether property, hotel or sales taxes) can be appropriated for any purpose regardless of intent expressed on the ballot. We see this in Proposition 3 where Assembly intends to grant the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council $4.5 million in sales tax previously approved by the voters for refurbishing Centennial Hall. The Assembly has also placed Proposition 2 on the ballot for voter authorization of $7 million in general obligation bonds for refurbishment of Centennial Hall to replace the $4.5 million in sales tax earmarked for Centennial Hall and cover an increase in Centennial Hall refurbishment cost estimates. Initially, the Assembly had tied granting the new JACC $4.5 million to passage of the bond by the voters, but later dropped reference to that tie.
Proposition 1 increases the hotel tax 2%. This increase is intended to provide additional funding for refurbishment of Centennial Hall and could cover part of the cost and interest on the GO Bond to reduce impact on property tax. However, whether the bond costs are repaid by property tax, sales tax, or hotel tax, the Assembly is using our local tax base resource that can be used for any local priority including reducing our taxes. I believe an ordinance requiring all borough taxes be treated as general funds would keep our Assembly more honest with respect to addressing our community’s highest priorities first before granting funding for wants versus needs.
When the community is debating whether we need to close one or more schools is not the time to consider building another large community building. Committing public funds to construction of a project of questionable public need unnecessarily increases our exposure to future cost over runs and higher annual budgets at a time when we should be reigning in cost and focused on maintaining and fully utilizing what we have.
The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council (JAHC) paid for a financial feasibility study narrowly focused on construction of a new JACC. What’s missing is an assessment of opportunity costs and overall community social and economic impacts. What are the likely cumulative costs and impacts to CBJ, such as increased pressure for parking and higher taxes? They have not identified the opportunity cost of not constructing more urgently needed projects and associated construction jobs. The Assembly requires a thorough social and economic impact analysis for other projects, such as a mine – why not the JACC?
Performances, conferences and events are hosted by many venues across the borough. Venues include private clubs, schools, churches, Native organization and university venues that either generate revenue streams or are offered free. How will moving performances from these diverse venues impact access and cost to residents attending events? How will revenue loss to other venues impact the owners of these venues and the CBJ budget? Will the revenue shifted from other community venues offset revenue generated by a new JACC?
The primary need appears to be the refurbishment of the existing JACC building to repurpose, update and address interior issues. There is currently adequate venue capacity within the borough even without the current JACC. The arts community has thrived utilizing the existing venues. Buildings do not make a great arts culture – people do. We do not have to increase our cost to live here to support a great arts culture.
I recommend a “no” vote on all three ballot propositions because if the bond passes, the Assembly will feel that they can afford to grant the $4.5 million to the JAHC. As for the hotel tax, I feel that increasing the hotel tax is not in keeping of being a good capital city and regional commercial center. Often the single largest expense incurred by fellow Alaskans traveling to Juneau is lodging. Keep in mind that the Assembly is not bound to adhere to the outcome of the advisory vote. However, they may be looking for cover.
• Andy Hughes is a member of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, Audubon Society and Alaska Public Employees Association. He resides in Juneau.