Breaking down the Municipality of Anchorage ballot propositions

With COVID-19 dominating headlines and turning everyday life on its head, it is little wonder the Muni election has received relatively little attention. So far, voter turnout for this vote-by-mail election appears to be so-so, but ballots are accepted through Election Day, so there’s still time for voters to turn them in, or postmark them by Tuesday, April 7.

Here, we dig into the three more interesting (read: controversial) ballot propositions, and the arguments for and against each one. No endorsements, just pros and cons. When you remove bonds and capital projects from the discussion, only three ballot props are exciting: Props 11, 12, and 13.

Proposition 11: Allowing on-site marijuana smoking

Official language: Allowing on-site consumption of marijuana by smoking or inhalation per applicable law in licensed retail marijuana stores with an endorsement for an on-site consumption area.

This one is pretty basic: should it be legal for pot shops to allow customers to smoke their product on the premises? Put simply, should marijuana shops be able to function like bars?

Proponents’ arguments: If bars are able to allow customers to consume alcohol on site, why not marijuana? Smoking areas will be separated from the rest of the store, and employees would not have to work in the smoking area. Any concerns about smoking customers driving under the influence would be handled using protocols similar to bar managers handling customers who drink too much.

Opponents’ arguments: Currently, all smoking in public places is illegal. When is the last time you saw someone smoking a cigarette in a bar? Why should be marijuana be any different when it comes to public and workplace health? It is much easier to visit a bar and not drink than enter a smoking area and not inhale.

Proposition 12: Add another Assembly member to Downtown Anchorage

Official language: This proposition would amend the Anchorage Municipal Charter to say: The legislative power of Anchorage is vested in an assembly of 12 members. There shall be six e districts; each shall have two assembly members, and they shall be formed of compact and contiguous territory containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socioeconomic area.

This ballot proposition is a bit more complex. Right now, the Anchorage Assembly is made up of 11 members, with each district of the city (except Downtown) represented by two members.

Proponents’ arguments: It boils down to fairness. Why should Downtown be represented by only one Assembly member when all the other districts get two? This anomaly of one district being represented by a single member is supposed to rotate, and another Assembly district could find itself with only one member in the future. Any concerns of a tie vote (6-6) making it harder for the Assembly to function would be handled like the Alaska State Legislature, where tie votes fail.

Opponents’ arguments: This is not the time to add elected officials, especially with an added cost of approximately $80,000 a year. If fairness is the issue, reduce all Assembly districts to single-member representation. Single members are preferable; with two representatives, you allow the unfortunate dynamic of one member working hard while the other member coasts, a phenomenon not unheard of in Assembly history. If the Assembly needs to be redistricted, do it holistically and reexamine each district.

Proposition 13: Alcohol tax

Official language: Charter amendment: retail sales tax on alcoholic beverages of 5% dedicating the revenue to public safety and health purposes.

Prop 13 is perhaps the most interesting item on the ballot. It appears to be a simple alcohol tax, but will indicate how the electorate feels about the city’s (and state’s) current fiscal situation, as well as pressing public safety issues. The result will show what voters think of being asked for the second year in a row to approve an alcohol tax; a similar measure was defeated at the ballot box last year.

Prop 13 seeks to levy a 5% tax on all retail sales of alcoholic beverages. The ballot language specifies that tax money collected from the tax be dedicated to the police department, and efforts to combat homelessness, child abuse, and sexual assault, and fund substance abuse treatment, among other public safety needs.

Proponents’ arguments: Homelessness and public safety issues are bad and getting worse in Anchorage, with alcohol contributing substantially to the problem. It is only fair that alcohol consumers help fund services that are necessary, at least in part, due to alcohol abuse. The city and state lack the revenue required for these services, and the public is demanding action. The Assembly listened, and voters’ concerns about last year’s ballot proposition have been addressed in the new version.

Opponents’ arguments: Voters turned this issue down last year, and the Assembly coming back just one year later could be interpreted as arrogant, i.e. voters’ opinions don’t matter. The timing for this tax is not ideal; bars and restaurants are closed due to the COVID-19 virus, and adding a tax on top of a disastrous economic situation is unwise. This tax will add an administrative burden to already struggling small business owners. Questions exist about the ability of any dedicated funding to solve the problems being discussed. The city should prioritize funds within its current budget for these services, not add a targeted tax.

Election Day is Tuesday, April 7! Get those ballots postmarked or dropped off at a secure drop box. You can learn more about the Muni election, here.

Note: Blueprint Alaska is not working on any of the MOA ballot proposition campaigns, either in paid or volunteer capacity.

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