Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Alaska October 2011 Local Election Results: Fairbanks Smothers Proposition 2, Mat-Su Approves Costly School Bond, And Juneau Rejects Plastic Bag Tax

The official results for the October 2011 Fairbanks North Star Borough election are in, and with 98 percent of the vote counted, Proposition 2, the hotly-debated Healthy Air Protection Act, is going down to a much greater defeat than I believed possible; 60.3 percent voted No, with a 21.8 percent voter turnout.

Comments to news stories leading up to the election indicated a reasonable possibility of rejection, but the defeat was foreshadowed by an exit poll at Woodriver Elementary School in West Fairbanks, one of the "ground zero" locations where wood smoke becomes so concentrated during the winter that pupils are not allowed outside for recess. Of 50 respondents to an exit poll survey conducted by the News-Miner between 5 and 6 P.M., 26 people said they voted Yes and 24 people said they voted No.

If Proposition 2 could barely squeak by in a customarily "smoky" area, it had little to no chance in other parts of the borough. The fatal flaw in Prop 2, as evidenced by post-election commentary in the News-Miner, was the fact that an entire class of heaters would have been outlawed, regardless of their emissivity. A last-minute video showing an outdoor wood boiler which would have been banned under Prop 2, outperforming an indoor wood heater which would not have been banned, also swayed voters against the measure.

Sylvia Schultz, who chairs Healthy Air Now, said she was disappointed by the results, feeling that misinformation may have gotten the better of some voters. But she believes the night wasn’t a total loss. “I believe there was a lot of misinformation that was intentionally trying to mislead people and that was unfortunate,” she said, “but there was a lot of correct honest information, so I think a lot of people learned more about the hazards of air pollution to our health, the rising levels of pollution in our community and the options we have to bring those levels down to safe levels.” She’s not sure if she’ll continue to lead the fight for clean air, but said that she’s bolstered by the number of people who spoke out against air pollution.

Fairbanks Borough voters agreed to open their wallets for the school district. Proposition 1, which sought approval of a $9.9 million general obligation bond for Ryan Middle School capital improvements, was approved with 59.3 percent of the vote, while Proposition 3, which asked for the issue of $10.39 million in general obligation bonds to fund capital improvements to Salcha and Woodriver elementary schools, North Pole Middle School and North Pole High School, was also approved with 61.2 percent of the vote. The Fairbanks-North Star School District made an effective case for the bonds and wasn't afraid to pare them down in advance as much as possible.

In other high-profile election results around Alaska:

-- Mat-Su election results are in, and 53.5 percent of Mat-Su Borough voters approved the costly Proposition 3 school bond. Voters disregarded the Conservative Patriot Group's warning about the bond, looked past the initial $214,495,000 price tag and noted that 70 percent debt reimbursement from the state would bring it down to $64,348,200. Voters also noted that the money would be spent over a five year period rather than in one fell swoop. Mat-Su voters also approved the less-controversial Proposition 2, which called for $32,165,000 for transportation infrastructural improvement, with a 50 percent state match. Voter turnout was only 13.1 percent. The Mat-Su Frontiersman, which editorially supported Proposition 3, has published their own post-game analysis.

Results for the Wasilla City election are also available, as are results for the Palmer City election.

-- The results of the Juneau election are also in, and 69.4 percent of Juneau voters authoritatively rejected Proposition 5, which called for a 15 cents tax on plastic bags. Turnout was 25 percent. Proponents of the measure may have been their own worst enemy; not only did they openly and unashamedly admit their purpose was to use this tax primarily to change behavior rather than raise needed revenue, but the applicability of the tax only to those merchants with annual gross incomes of $15 million or more was rejected as discriminatory, even by some who indicated they would have otherwise supported it. Turning The Tides came across more like California hippies instead of Alaskans. Juneau voters did take care of the revenue issue by voting authoritatively to approve Proposition 2, which renews the city's 3 percent sales tax for an additional five years beyond its current July 2012 sunset date. The Juneau Empire, which editorially opposed the bag tax on August 7th, has published its own analysis.

-- Pebble Initiative: Results of voting by residents of the Lake and Peninusla Borough will not be announced until October 17th, because all votes were cast by mail. Ballots must be postmarked no later than October 4th to qualify. The initiative would ban large projects, including mining, that would destroy or degrade salmon habitat, although state officials contend only the state has such power. Already, the threat of passage is chilling the investment climate; on Tuesday October 4th, trading of the stock of Northern Dynasty -- which makes up 50 percent of the Pebble Partnership -- briefly dipped below $5 a share, with the stock rebounding to close at $5.81. After-hours trading then brought it down to $5.68. The price is far lower than earlier this year; Northern Dynasty's stock soared above $20 a share in February. But starting in April, the price started to steadily fall. Voters in the Bristol Bay area don't seem to be concerned about the possibility that they're being used as mere pawns in a gargantuan food fight between the fishing industry and the mining industry; some sources state that up to 85 percent of all Bristol Bay fishing permits are held by OUTSIDERS.

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