Anchorage Assemblymember Christopher Constant on Monday announced he’ll be asking the Anchorage Assembly to consider putting EagleExit on the 2022 ballot, getting a real look at whether the long-simmering breakup has the support of Eagle River voters and Anchorage voters as a whole.
The proposal would be for a non-binding advisory vote over whether deep red Eagle River and Chugiak should be separated from the greater municipality, leaving much of the specifics of the new municipality, how it’d operate and how it’d pay for itself unanswered. The idea has long been discussed but has gained new energy in recent years as conservatives in Eagle River have chafed at the increasingly progressive Anchorage city core.
“I don’t take a position on whether the idea is good or not. It’s a question that has hounded much of the process,” Constant said in a series of tweets announcing and discussing the proposal. “For the record I’m not pro- or anti- on this question.”
Constant, who represents the city’s downtown assembly seat, acknowledged that many issues such as land management, utilities and school boundaries would be settled down the line if the effort moves forward but said he wants to see the debate settled.
“It’s just been a nagging question for the past 8 or so years,” he said. “Time to answer it in my opinion.”
The proposal puts the deeply conservative Bronson administration and their allies in an interesting spot because Eagle River is a bastion of conservative voters who played a crucial role in his election but where many also support the split. Both Eagle River assemblymembers told the Anchorage Daily News that while they’re interested in the idea, they don’t appreciate that Constant brought it forward.
Eagle River Assemblymember Crystal Kennedy told the ADN that she’s been working to vet a similar proposition, adding that “I’m absolutely stunned to think that Chris Constant would bring something forward like that, which has everything to do with my district and not his.”
The Bronson administration initially put forward a request to the Chugiak-Eagle River Advisory board to see if they wanted to route some of the money that would normally be put toward parks and roads to support the campaign, but ultimately scrapped the proposal. That campaign is different from the proposal put forward by Constant in one major way: It would take Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and its $750,000 in annual payments in lieu of taxes along with it. Constant’s proposal only covers Eagle River and Chugiak (and also Eklutna, but he said he would remove that by the time it’s formally introduced).
Just what would and wouldn’t be included in the split is a big point of contention.
Eagle River-based supporters of the split have pushed for a more expansive carveout from the municipality, which would include JBER as well as the Tikahtnu Commons shopping center (despite it being a 15-minute drive from what’s typically considered to be Eagle River). The inclusion of the two areas would help the hypothetical Eagle River government expand its revenue, which is a big deal given a 2007 study’s conclusion that an Eagle River government would need to significantly increase its tax revenues if it planned to maintain the same level of services. Any such carveouts would effectively take away from the Anchorage’s revenue.
Since the 2007 study, there’s been no deep dive examination into the logistics or costs of the plan, but proponents of the split argue that a new Eagle River-based government would be slimmer and more cost-effective than the government and services currently provided by the municipality. (Tikahtnu Commons also didn’t open until 2008, a year after the study was completed.)
Much of the prevailing pro-Eagle Exit talk has been to draw the hypothetical new Eagle River boundaries according to the current Anchorage Assembly districts, which would include the Tikahtnu Commons shopping center and JBER in with Eagle River but that could change after the latest round of reapportionment. A big factor in that is the expansion of the Anchorage Assembly from 11 seats to 12 with the 12th being added to the downtown district currently only represented by Constant.
Of the five proposed reapportionment plans, three would see some portion of JBER and Tikahtnu Commons completely removed from the Eagle River assembly districts.