Up on the North Slope, we never met a bond proposition we didn’t like. In 30 years of voting there, during 25 of which there were always bond propositions on the ballot, every one of them passed with flying colors. If some bond proposition only got 65% approval, that was viewed as close to failing.
As in Anchorage, property taxes are the mail fuel of local government there and the backbone for financing the payback of bond sales. Unlike Anchorage, however, on the North Slope we had industry property at Prudhoe Bay that fed hundreds of millions of dollars to the borough for these bonds.
As a private property owner in Barrow, bond propositions had only a limited relationship to my property taxes thanks to a limited special exemption on private property. I don’t remember the ins and outs of how that worked but I know that industry ultimately paid for the bulk of those bond issues while I got to enjoy the results.
When I moved to Anchorage, I was hit with the reality of a local government that funds its bond propositions on my property taxes. It wasn’t pleasant. When I was deciding how much of a house I could afford based on what my monthly payment would be, there was the big unknown of how much higher my property taxes would be in any given year.
When you first look at this issue and find out that your taxes will only increase by $40 this year or $30 next year, it doesn’t sound so bad. But after a few years of that you find your monthly payment has risen significantly, especially if you haven’t had a concomitant increase in income. It’s not my mortgage payments that are pricing me out of my home. It’s the slow creep of property taxes.
Despite this reality, I go into the voting booth each time bond issues are up for a vote with a sense that if this is my city and I want a decent quality of life in it, then I have to help pay for that. So I read up on the propositions before I get to the booth and try to vote intelligently. I try to avoid the knee jerk impulse to vote no on everything that probably caused the equestrian question to fail even though it would have cost us nothing.
I read the bond propositions carefully, look at what they will add to my taxes and then try to make reasoned choice among them since I know I can’t afford all of them. And I work hard to fight off a sense of resentment at people who don’t own property in Anchorage but who get to vote on whether I should pay more to improve their quality of life.
I’m betting that an exit poll done after one of these “off-year” elections would show that property owners are in the vast majority of the 27% who actually turn out to vote. That’s because we have a much greater stake in the outcome than someone renting an apartment. We will actually see money taken from us to pay for the things we are voting on.
I don’t like to pay taxes any more than the next person but I accept them as a necessary evil to enjoy such amenities as police protection, fire services, parks and libraries. However, I would be less than truthful if I didn’t admit that a sense of resentment has recently crept into my brain over the fact that a group I belong to has been singled out to pay a greater share for these amenities than everyone else.
I don’t like that feeling and I don’t like how it is causing me to view the community in which I live. An us against them mentality has never been known to foster healthy civic discourse or improvements in community life. But there you have it. It’s in my brain and I’m having trouble dislodging it.
There should be a better way to distribute the tax burden for these bond issues. It’s the only way I see Anchorage even starting to get beyond the negative impulses that dominate the voting on new bond issues.
As for that equestrian center, could someone please put it back on the ballot with a huge red $0 superimposed on the wording so that even the densest of voters will realize they have nothing to fear from it.