News from Patrick Flynn

Electoral cap games

If you’re afflicted with an unfortunate addiction to following local politics you’ve likely noticed a recent series of op-ed pieces and letters to the editor regarding something with the impressive-sounding title of the “Taxpayer Protection Act.”  Unfortunately for the authors of these missives, the charter amendment in question would be more correctly dubbed the “So-called Conservative Clumsy Electioneering Effort of 2011.”  To understand why, a little background is in order.

Back in the heady days of Alaska’s early oil wealth, a number of local property tax breaks (e.g. the senior citizens property tax exemption) were mandated in state law.  No problem there, state lawmakers generously provided municipal revenue sharing from the the state’s oil dollars and local governments were made whole.  As oil revenues started to decline Alaska’s state government did what lots of state governments do – they reduced funding to local governments (painless for the state, more difficult for the local governments).  And, eventually, municipal assistance disappeared altogether.

In the middle part of the last decade oil revenues began to rebound and the idea of restarting municipal assistance gained favor in Juneau.  Seeking to encourage this thinking, the Anchorage Assembly and then-mayor Mark Begich pledged to use any municipal assistance for tax relief and to give credit to state lawmakers for their generosity, a practice that continued until current mayor Dan Sullivan took office.  I still have MOA tax notices from that era reflecting a “property tax credit” and explaining that it, “represents the effect of State Revenue Sharing approved by the State Legislature.”  Regular readers will recall the mechanics of how this worked from the post Tax cap primer, published back in November, 2009, and the salient fact revolves around the credit being granted after the taxes were levied.  In this manner tax capacity was kept at a higher level, the logic being that if municipal assistance once again disappeared Anchorage could make corresponding cuts, raise taxes to make up the difference or some combination thereof.

I don’t recall anyone fussing much back then but apparently this concept stuck in the craw of then-Assembly member Dan Sullivan who, since assuming the mayor’s office, has insisted that state dollars be placed under the tax cap.  That’s a policy call, and reasonable minds can disagree, but apparently changing the way we treat those dollars wasn’t enough.  Thus was born the charter amendment in question, first introduced last month by Chris Birch.

A brief aside here – I’m not sure if I should be bemused or amazed that proponents of this measure attempted to rush through a charter amendment, given that Anchorage’s charter is essentially our constitution, in a relatively brief time.  Many of these same folks, both office-holders and citizens testifying before the Assembly, chastised some of my colleagues for “rushing” an advisory vote on raising the homeowners property tax exemption from $20k to $50k last spring.  Meanwhile I spent over a year fine-tuning the charter amendment on downtown parking, an approach some of these same folks applauded.  Somehow this recalls Mencken, hobgoblins…ah, never mind.

The charter amendment’s concept was to memorialize the Sullivan treatment of state dollars but if you needed clues that this proposal was not well thought-out they were easy to find.  First, unlike most Assembly proposals, this one was neither drafted nor reviewed by Assembly Counsel – it came directly from the Municipal Attorney’s office.  Because everyone on the Assembly knows Mr. Birch doesn’t dedicate much time to Assembly matters it was immediately clear he was carrying the administration’s water.  (That’s not to say that all legislation is drafted by Assembly Counsel – I’ve introduced legislation drafted by the Department of Law but route it through Assembly Counsel for additional review.)

Second, no one co-sponsored this thing, Mr. Birch (and Sullivan) were running this all alone.  Heck, a couple folks who voted for it hinted privately that they didn’t think much of it but didn’t want to get crosswise with the mayor.

Third, on January 18 administration officials piously informed me that my reading of the following passage, that it would restrict all tax collection to the prior year’s property tax collections, was incorrect:

“The base amount for calculating the next year’s tax increase limit shall be the amount of property taxes to be collected in the current year.” (emphasis added)

By February 1 they’d changed their tune and Mr. Birch himself offered an amendment deleting the word “property.”

Fourth, I pointed out that approval of this charter amendment would preclude a future Assembly from providing temporary property tax relief by using, for example, federal stimulus dollars or funds from a legal settlement.  Put another way, approval of this charter amendment would actually prevent certain forms of future tax relief.  No one ever refuted this, instead retreating to yet another refrain of the old “Begich-done-me-wrong” song.

Fifth, Mr. Birch wasn’t in town for either the work session or the meeting where we voted (though he was on the phone, deftly deferring questions to the administration).

Finally, following the proposal’s defeat (it didn’t even achieve a majority, let along the eight votes necessary to go on the ballot) we’ve seen the aforementioned drumbeat of publications castigating those with the temerity to vote against a half-baked plan.

Placing issues on the ballot to attract a certain segment of the electorate to the polls has a long history.  It’s not illegal and it’s not necessarily unethical.  In this case, however, it’s transparent – Mr. Birch now has a modicum of standing to refute the argument, as one local commentator wrote, that he’s “one of the laziest assemblymen in living memory,” while the mayor has an issue upon which to attack three sitting Assembly members whom he’d like to replace with more like-minded candidates.

As for me, not being associated with this behavior makes it a whole lot easier to face the guy in the mirror when I shave.



This contribution was made on Friday, 11. February 2011 at 03:09 and was published under the category Election matters, Fiscal matters. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. Patrick,

    Well done my Friend!!! Well done!!



    Comment: Elvi Gray-Jackson – 12. February 2011 @ 9:53 am

  2. I wish all political debate was on the level of your Blog and not on the usual dumbed down rhetoric. You serve your district and the entire city well. Keep up the good work

    Comment: Tom Wescott – 12. February 2011 @ 10:00 am

  3. Personal comments about your fellow assembly members are not nice, but sadly, in this case, they are absolutely correct. This blog would make a great opinion piece in the ADN.

    Comment: hf – 13. February 2011 @ 3:32 pm

  4. Mr Flynn, where were you during the first and ensuing work sessions/committee meetings on the TPA? Ms. Gray-Jackson was there for at least one of them and never raised the flag or apparently advised you on the “property” wording, nor did she raise any other questions she raised during the assembly meeting last month on the issue. Why not if there was a problem? Remember, she is a trained and experienced budgeteer. You have your MBA….

    Secondly, how could this be a half baked plan when the TPA philosophy worked well for over 23 years previously, with Mr. Mystrom’s experience as mayor notwithstanding? Not only did it work to keep our ” would be spendthifts” in check with limited budget growth, the then Assembly’s worked with even greater limitations when revenue sharing from the State was included in the base calculation reducing even further what the city could collect for the next year. Your argument holds no water.

    I quote Mr. Flynn:

    “Fourth, I pointed out that approval of this charter amendment would preclude a future Assembly from providing temporary property tax relief by using, for example, federal stimulus dollars or funds from a legal settlement. Put another way, approval of this charter amendment would actually prevent certain forms of future tax relief. No one ever refuted this, instead retreating to yet another refrain of the old “Begich-done-me-wrong” song.”

    Mr. Flynn, your argument in your fourth point above makes little sense to the reader. You demonstrate no reasoning showing how a legal settlement or federal stimulus money would not or could not be used to provide property tax relief. Even if they did not, what are the statistics showing how this would impact the average taxpayer and how often? It is very apparent however you are no fan of the taxpayer or you would be overtly and energetically trying to see what could be done to mitigate the rapid growth of property taxes. At least Mr. Birch is willing to lend his good name to do SOMETHING for the taxpayer. After all it is our money and not the assembly’s per se. One way to show that you are for responsible growth of our city’s budget would be to work with Mr. Birch and Mr. Sullivan to come up with a workable solution. Another might be to come up with your own bill, being a young, intelligent and energetic man, that might actually call for putting all extra funds awarded, gifted or otherwise coming into the city’s hands by whatever means, under the base and encourage all the voters in Anchorage to support it at the polls so that it could be enshrined as the Flynn Taxpayer Responsibility Act in City Charter language and then it could be your legacy to Anchorage in perpetuity. People would actually think you were a forward thinker and with your business degree, you could have a hand in allowing more people to keep more of their hard earned money to spend i our city. It would be something that would actually encourage business to prosper here. In fact that was going to be one of my questions to you at our debate that you have chosen not to attend.

    We realize you are a Begich apologist, and that is a matter of opinion which I fought for over twenty years to let you enjoy, and in addition I would caution the reader that you Mr. Flynn made our city more expensive and not any better over two years ago for which we are on the hook for, for many years to come, so cast no stones at Mr. Birch who happens to be a demonstrated friend of the taxpayer. By voting in many city contracts with little research and thought as to the obvious consequences that even I testified to you about that december night, our city needs some sanity in budget growth restrictions imposed from the taxpayer because the majority of the city’s assembly has shown itself beyond any reasonable doubt to be completely incompetent in this area despite all your education and experience. Looks to us all that paid any attention that you carried Mr. Begich’s water that night!!

    I think perhaps we need someone in office who understands that to pay taxes takes the parent out of the home to earn the money. The more you raise our taxes year in and year out, the more most of us get to spend away from our families. We are tired of the trend and are holding you, Mr. Flynn and other like minded officials responsible because that is your job description, to be responsible spenders. That is why we need to use to base. Any one can spend to the cap. It takes a real leader to create a difference between the cap and the base. Mr. Sullivan needs some support in this effort. If we wanted to pay New Jersey taxes, we’d be living there.

    What will you do to protect the taxpayer and diversify our revenue base?

    Sincerely, The Municipal Taxpayer’s League

    Comment: Robert Timmins – 13. February 2011 @ 5:30 pm

  5. Mr. Timmins (aka, the Municipal Taxpayer’s League),

    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. Please allow me to address some of your concerns:

    1. I attended every Assembly meeting and work session on this matter. While the Budget & Finance committee had one or two additional meetings, I am not a member of that committee.
    2. As to how this legislation could negatively impact taxpayers, I cited in Assembly debate federal stimulus dollars slated for local government that then-Governor Palin expressed reluctance to accept. Acting mayor Matt Claman convinced the Palin administration to accept those monies in part by pledging them to local property tax relief. That was achieved using the exact same methodology (post tax-levy mill rate reduction) employed by the Begich administration. Depending on how it is handled, the recently announced federal grant to support our Fire Department has a very similar circumstance.
    3. While Mr. Begich and I tend to agree more often than we disagree, I’ve never been afraid to oppose his approach when I felt it to be in error. (That may be why he was rumored to be seeking a candidate to oppose me when I first ran.)
    4. I know it’s not as “sexy” as something called the Taxpayers Protection Act,” but I’ve been busy providing oversight on things like the Knik Arm Crossing, the Port of Anchorage, the Anchorage School District, Municipal Light & Power, Solid Waste Services and Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility. All told those efforts likely provide a far greater benefit to Anchorage residents than this TPA silliness, and that’s just part of what I’m doing to protect taxpayers.



    Comment: Patrick Flynn – 13. February 2011 @ 8:43 pm

  6. It is absurd to compare the taxation level in Anchorage to New Jersey or California. We are the lowest taxed city in the nation. Just an absurd argument. You may not like that Property taxes make up the majority of revenue for the city(55%). Change the system if you don’t like it. Just be honest about it in the process.

    Mr Birch is lazy. He may be a nice fellow and he may share your ideology but he is still lazy and not the kind of public servant we should strive for. Find someone who will invest the time and effort into the job and have them run. Don’t support Slugs because they are “your” Slugs

    It is my federal tax dollars that go to pay Mr .Timmin’s Pension and medical care he recieves for his military service. That takes time away from my family. Unlike Mr. Timmins I will not complain about that even though it is money out of my pocket. He earned it and I am willing to pay my taxes to allow him to collect his defined benefit pension and medical care. I am also willing to pay for the Police officer who took several bullets or the firefighter who runs into a burning house.

    Mr Timmins and his group always attack the taxes and completely ignore the services the city provides. The snow plowing, police protection, Fire and EMS, permitting. Business benefits from the services provided by the city.

    Does the MTL want us to tear the roads out so we don’t have to plow and repair? Should we all buy guns and disband the police department? Should we all home school? Should the homeless freeze out on the sidewalks of our favorite downtown restaurants? We would have lower taxes but we might look like downtown Mogidishu. Not my idea of a quality city. You pay taxes and get the safety, security and stability provided by the MOA. This stability allows business to prosper.

    I guess the MTL should stop being hypocrites. I might buy into what you say if you stop taking your cola increases. Remember when you were testifying against city contracts and you were getting a 5.8% COLA increase in 2009? I do. Did you give it back? Why not? Remember all those cola raises you got when you were in the military? I do . I was there also.

    One last thing. Stop blaming Begich for everything. We have the city and tax level we have asked for. We elected the assembly and the Mayor. We approved all the bonds that build new schools and provided new services. Are the majority of voters wrong? Were they wrong when they elected Sullivan to slow or stop the growth?

    Comment: Tired of the BS – 13. February 2011 @ 9:09 pm

  7. So if the TPA was “electioneering,” what is Harriet, Mike and Elvi’s ordinance that they claim will do the same thing? Can THEY look at themselves in the mirror? Well, Mr. Flynn, may we have an answer?

    Comment: Albert – 14. February 2011 @ 11:20 am

  8. Albert (and if this is Mr. Swank, welcome to the fray!),

    Thank you for your question, though it would be better posed to the individuals about whom you inquire. We’ll see how the ordinance turns out but it’s my understanding it will ultimately be more narrowly proscribed to address the specific concern about state municipal assistance.



    Comment: Patrick Flynn – 14. February 2011 @ 1:31 pm

  9. Mr. Flynn,
    I basically donated my time till 60 years old before I can collect a dime from the government. It is called a reserve retirement. I will not enjoy tri-care medical till perhaps 60 if I so choose, and no I do not obviously get any COLA. The military reserves have been the best deal for the buck for the American people ever devised. I dare you to revise our city contracts so that no one who has completed a career here in the muni gets a dime toward retirement or medical till they are 60 and see how your success fares. You will be laughed out of town!
    I volunteer dozens of hours a month with no pay to watch folks like you because I have an interest in why you get a couple of grand a month to spend my taxes on making our government more expensive and not necessarily that much better year over year.
    We at the MTL and those other responsible taxpayers never attack well planned and intelligently budgeted taxes. They are important and necessary. We condemn frivolous, wasteful and thoughtless increases in taxes because we do not enjoy seeing those who are on fixed incomes for example, who do not get COLA increases, pay for the massive tax increases that are forced on them year in and out. You always seem to think everyone is in the same box you are in, with plenty of ability to handle the tax burden. Yes we do enjoy, overall, a lighter tax burden than other places, and we are trying to get you to see that it needs to stay that way. We seem to be having some trouble in this area though. The trouble is that most ALL of our assessment come from ONE source.
    The solution is was trying to point out to you is that we need to diversify the load as in a sales tax to share the burden. It would come in under the cap/base and lower the property taxes commensurately. It is the fairest tax and one that would benefit the little guy or better said the poorer amongst us the most. Being a highly educated MBA, you could spearhead the initiative and sell it to the public as your own. I would be your greatest ally as well as all other thinkers in the community. Diversity…. What a concept,

    Best, Rob (MTL)
    If the majority of voters “not wrong” as you put it then put your money where your mouth is and back the TPA so it will either pass or fail at the ballot box. Why are you so scared of us in the audience. Remember, I am just a non elected citizen like everyone else but one who has dared to step forward and make my voice and those of responsible government heard.

    Comment: Robert Timmins – 14. February 2011 @ 3:02 pm

  10. Tired of the BS would like to state that they are in no way Mr. Flynn.

    The subject of the military pension was brought up because many in the MTL are collecting military retirements. They are totally earned and deserved. It is hard to reconcile how they can be earned and deserved and yet city employees are leaches to many of you. I have heard the conversations first hand from many in your group.

    I am in total agreement with you on a sales tax that falls under the cap. We pay taxes when we go tot the Valley or the peninsula. What should they not contribute to our city when they come here to work or shop? The problem is every time I hear the MTL they are talking about burning city hall down. Ask Trombley if he thinks the tax burden is too great in Anchorage. Griffin, Nichols gives you the same story. The fact is we pay a very low percentage compared to the rest of the nation. We have great services for the amount we pay. We pay nothing on the state level. It does not get much better than what we have going on. That in no way means we can fall asleep at the wheel and not watch our elected official. But we should not incorrectly label the situation we are in. This is what the MTL has done

    We must be honest when we debate the issues. Your group would have me believe they are going under from the heavy burden of the Anchorage tax structure. Seniors can’t afford their homes.(Even though they get an exemption) I have to be away from my family in order to pay the tax bill. I have walked away from MTL meetings thinking I was in California. Be honest. When you keep telling me the sky is falling and it is not. I may not believe your group when it really is falling.

    Comment: Tired of the BS – 14. February 2011 @ 10:50 pm

  11. […] (surprise) no input from either the public or his colleagues.  No surprise there – he’s got a history of lousy charter amendments.  (Call me old-fashioned, but on the one I successfully drafted and […]

    Pingback: News from Assemblyman Patrick Flynn » Corrective action? | An Assembly member's take on Anchorage issues – 02. December 2012 @ 2:24 pm

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