Two proposed ballot questions got a tentative thumbs up from the Sitka Assembly last night: — an excise tax on motor fuels and sales tax on retail marijuana.
As KCAW’s Katherine Rose reports, it’s still undecided whether either tax question will be on October’s ballot.
The fuel excise tax would add three cents to every gallon of marine and motor fuel sold at the pump. It wouldn’t apply to aircraft or heating fuel. The revenue raised would go toward Sitka’s roads and aging harbor infrastructure.
Marijuana would be taxed at 5 percent on top of Sitka’s existing sales tax. The additional revenue would go toward the Sitka’s School District’s student activities fund.
During public comment, a couple of people voiced support for the fuel tax. Chris Ystad is the vice chair of the Port and Harbors Commission. He said after talking with fellow fishermen about, most preferred the fuel tax over the planned exponential increase in harbor rates, which are set to rise 5 to 6 percent each year for the next decade to pay for the replacement of Eliason Harbor.
“At first, you know, when you first say, ‘Let’s add another tax,’ it’s obviously a little bit of Whoa,” he said. “I asked my fellow fishermen and business owners to run the math…compare how many gallons that they would burn on a yearly basis, three cents per gallon, and compare that to what their harbor rates would be doing at a 5% to 6% increase for the foreseeable future into the 2030s. And after I explained that, most people accepted that they would rather see this fuels tax.”
Former Assembly Member Richard Wein questioned why the sponsors hadn’t included a projected amount the fuel tax would bring in revenue for the city.
“I certainly would have liked to have heard what the approximate estimates were to bring in, which would give an idea overall of how much fuel Sitka uses,” he said. “If people are going to remit, there’s a certain amount of money that comes in and you can make certain very real assumptions as to how many gallons were sold.”
During Assembly deliberation, Member Kevin Mosher voiced concerns about both proposals, particularly the marijuana tax.
“I feel like it’s basically picking on one industry,” he said. “The tax that they already have is just tremendous.”
Mosher said he might be willing to consider a lower rate. “But 5% on top of all that they’re already paying, I think is too much,” he said.
Member Thor Christianson said he wasn’t sure how he’d vote on either question should they make it on the ballot in the municipal election this fall, but was okay with voting yes at the Assembly table.
“Almost any semi-reasonable proposal, I’ll put forward to the voters,” he said. “I am not sure how I would vote for this if and when that comes that point, but I don’t have a problem letting it go to the voters.”
The Assembly unanimously approved the fuel excise ballot question on first reading. The Assembly narrowly approved the marijuana tax proposal on a 3-2 vote with members Valorie Nelson and Kevin Mosher opposed.
Both ballot questions will come to the Assembly table for a second reading in July. If they receive a final green light from the Assembly, the measures will be added to the ballot for voters’ consideration in the October 5 municipal election.