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Senate Proposal Is Key To Local Responsibility
by Edgar Blatchford


April 23, 2004

As public policymakers debate fundamental issues regarding the budget and delivery of essential State and local services throughout Alaska, it is critical to bear in mind the vision of the framers of Alaska's Constitution. The 55 individuals who created the structure for our state government required the division of all of Alaska into organized and unorganized boroughs. They expected boroughs to organize once they demonstrated the capacity to support local services.

Boroughs were conceived in the Constitution as the key to "maximum local self-government" and the exercise of local responsibility. The Constitutional Delegates left the details for organization of boroughs to the Legislature.

In 1961, the Legislature established procedures by which boroughs could be formed through local initiative. However, Governor Hammond, who served in the Legislature at the time, expressed the view that citizens would avoid voluntary incorporation of boroughs because they did not want to "tax themselves to pay for services received from the state, gratis."

In 1963, Governor William Egan, former President of Alaska's Constitutional Convention, characterized boroughs as a key to addressing the need for local services such as improved school systems, sanitation, fire protection, planning and zoning, water and flood control, community water and sewer systems.

Heeding Governor Egan's remarks, the 1963 Legislature recognized that the policy of voluntary incorporation of boroughs was a failure. It adopted a new policy under which Anchorage, Fairbanks, Mat-Su, Kenai, Kodiak, Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan were forced to organize boroughs. Governor Egan endorsed that policy. However, the 1963 Legislature neglected to further implement the policy on a permanent basis. Consequently, the State has since slipped backward to the failed 1961 policy of voluntary borough formation.

Today, there are a number of regions in Alaska that have the capacity to support local services but are unwilling to form borough governments. The State Senate recently adopted a measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution Number 12 (SCR 12), that would compel certain unorganized areas to form boroughs if a careful review of the facts demonstrated that those areas have the capacity to operate boroughs.

The vast majority of the boroughs formed under the 1963 Mandatory Borough Act have urged passage of the Senate proposal. A number of city governments and other organizations have also endorsed the measure. SCR 12 is awaiting action in the House of Representatives.

I share the views of the March 29, 2004, Anchorage Daily News editorial that, "Everyone who enjoys the privileges of life in Alaska -- including the opportunity to work -- should accept the responsibilities of citizenship." The Daily News stressed that the bedrock of American democracy is the principle that "We all get the benefits; we all share the burdens." Unfortunately, that principle does not apply to many in the unorganized borough. Those unorganized borough residents who live outside of city school districts get the benefits, but do not share the burdens. Nor do they wish to do so and oppose borough reform.

Surely, there are unorganized areas of Alaska that lack the means to support a borough. SCR 12 calls only on those who can afford to help pay for services to do so. If passed by the Legislature, SCR 12 would be the most significant expression of State policy regarding assumption of local responsibility in more than four decades.

Borough formation in areas of Alaska with the capacity to support local services should be mandatory before residents of existing boroughs are asked to contribute more funding or sacrifice more services.




Note: Edgar Blatchford is Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development. He has also served as an associate professor of journalism and public communications at the University of Alaska-Anchorage and as Commissioner of Community and Regional Affairs under Governor Walter J. Hickel from 1990-1994. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Alaska Methodist University, 1973; a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Washington School of Law, 1976; and a Masters of Arts degree in Journalism from Columbia University, 1988. He has served on the board of directors of Chugach Alaska Corporation, including numerous terms as chairman. He was Mayor of Seward, a tax-collecting and tax-paying city in the mandatorily-formed Kenai Peninsula Borough.


Note: Comments published on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.



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