Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Great Budget Crisis of 2009

Well the quickly growing amount of suggestions pouring into City Hall these last couple of days or so have made me come out of hibernation a little earlier as I couldn't resist but to publish my own list of recommended budget cuts and new taxes. Both the ADN and the Anchorage Press have been reporting on the flood of ideas coming in to the Muni. From taxing and legalizing poker rooms, reducing the amount of flower pots downtown (which seems to be getting the death blow from everyone), to -- who didn't see this coming -- legalizing pot and prostitution with a tax attached; everyone and their mother is enthusiastically jumping in with their own ideas on how to close the deficit.

I was thinking of going the Glenn Beck route and listing my "7 principles and 12 commandments" or whatever he does, but I figured my recommendations wouldn't be taken more seriously than anyone elses just because of creativity in presentation. Speaking of seriousness, I was tempted to go off and pull a London/Singapore by suggesting we have toll roads as those two cities recently have done (New York and San Francisco also recently looked at such ideas), but I knew I was just asking for it being this is Anchorage. Other ideas listed above such as regulating and taxing vice activities are also not that far fetched and I think it would be nice if we as a city could at least discuss that, but again, as the resident-cynic, I don't expect any of those proposals to be brought up. Then again, Wasilla of all places, and under Palin of all people, did get bars to delay their last call until 5am. New York City's last call is 4am. Anyways I'm going off -- let's just get to my recommendations for closing the gap:

1. - Halt all future road construction projects that involve new turn lanes, extra lanes, wider lanes, etc. We traditonally throw a ridiculous amount of money into new roads with every election that see's bonds up for vote. It's time that comes to a stop. If traffic gets worse because that new turn lane is not yet built, too bad. Maybe you should've taken the bus. I can let pothole repairs go and other upkeep of existing roads, but we have enough aspahlt layed on the ground. No more is needed.

2. - Tax churches and other institutions currently tax exempt. Jerry Prevo, Anchorage's Boss Tweed, strong armed the legislature from taxing his housing units next to his Baptist Temple in East Anchorage. From here on out, all buildings under church ownership that are not used for actual worshipping should be taxed. This includes housing, educational buildings, and giant ugly inflatable sports domes (I'm looking at you, ChangePoint). Perhaps there should also be a tax to UAA should they choose to go forward with the construction of a new arena. Like UAA does best, the new arena will take up forest land next to Providence Hospital rather than already developed land. The city's message to UAA should be "re-develop the Wells Fargo Center, or pay a hefty price".

3. - Tax extra to businesses that want to send human billboards to the side of the street. As everyone here has seen these last couple of years, the new fad is to pay homeless or teens to stand roadside holding a sign, sometimes doing a little dance, just so they can convince you to have your taxes done with them, buy a lotto ticket, or check out a furniture store going out of business. Speaking of furniture stores going out of business, there should be a hefty fine for businesses that litter the roadside with small lawn signs that advertise, oh I dunno... Morgans Home Furnishing, or Kitts Camera Repair...

4. - Charge extra tax to retail businesses that take up valuable industrial land. Right now Target is building a big box retail on the newly opened stretch of C Street between O'Malley and Dimond. The land in that area was intended for industry, but as has been done over and over, a national retailer quickly sneaked in and purchased land that not only allows for their presence, but also allows for the scraps that follow -- fast food chains, strip malls, and chain restaurants that serve dog food like TGI Friday's, Applebee's, or Golden Corral (Golden Corral is actually a pig slop barn -- my bad). Industrial land is already scarce, and we have enough commercial centers for new businesses.

5. - No more roadside landscaping. Even before the budget crisis, new traffic islands have been neglected as the grass grows tall and yellow. Take away the flower patch in front of the "Anchorage Welcomes You" signs. Thinking about replacing the wide concrete median with one filled with grass. Cancel it. Outside of Downtown, we can try to beautify the suburban mess that makes up most of the Bowl with band aids in the form of landscaping, but the results have historically been dreadful as upkeep is never consistant.

6. - Seek the State of Alaska's cooperation in shutting down KABATA and the bridge project. Though the last on my list, the city would get off to a great start by jumping on this recommendation first. The last thing we need is a 300 million dollar plus (I don't even know what the cost is anymore) boondoggle of a project that has struggled to find investors, threatens to send our tax base to Houston and Wasilla, and is only two lanes with a toll booth and a drive time longer than the Glenn Highway. KABATA itself has been a mess with the resignation of members (most notably George Wuerch and Henry Springer), PR disasters, and lack of adequate answers to many concerns -- all on the taxpayers dime. As it stands right now, the transportation board that oversee's major projects for South Central has voted 3 to 2 to shelve the bridge until 2018, however the mayor of Houston (the same guy who pulls drivers over in his personal BMW and has countless of YouTube-worthy squabbles with the city council) has taken that decision to court.