Rep. Julie Coulombe, R-Anchorage, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Feb. 28, 2024. (Eric Stone/Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that would put more guardrails around the state’s property assessment process. 

Last year, many residents in Juneau and Haines said they saw steep jumps in their property assessments — large enough that some questioned whether their assessors were being transparent and fair. Rep. Julie Coulombe, an Anchorage Republican who sponsored the bill, said the bill would tackle some of their concerns.

“HB 347 puts some baseline requirements in place to protect the taxpayer, while preserving the important principle of local control,” she said. 

The bill would stop assessors from raising a property’s value during an appeal, establish new certification standards for assessors, and require a response from the government if a property owner presented an appraisal that didn’t match theirs.

It also changes the default for who hears tax appeals to an appointed Board of Equalization, instead of the municipality’s locally elected officials.

Some residents have also urged the Legislature to cap how much the assessed value of a property can go up, but neither this bill nor a companion bill in the Senate does that.

Rep, Sara Hannan, a Juneau Democrat, called it a “fairly clean-cut bill” and said it only aims to standardize the appeal process in municipalities across the state — not expand the state’s tax authority.

“It simply sets up standards to make sure that citizens are treated fairly and have a recourse,” she said. “And if someone says they’re an assessor and establishing the tax for you, that you know that they’ve met a professional standard of governance.”

The bill did see some pushback. Rep. Jesse Sumner, a Wasilla Republican, argued that putting limits on raising values after appeals could incentivize more people to file them. And he fears big landowners could find new ways to game the system.

“I think that we may inadvertently be causing a lot of headaches for our local governments in relation to those very large property taxpayers. So, I would just question if this is really the best thing to do,” he said. 

But the bill sailed through the House on Wednesday with a wide bipartisan majority — and with Juneau’s delegation speaking strongly in favor. The House reconsidered the bill on Friday afternoon but passed it again. 

The bill now heads to the Senate. Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat, introduced a nearly identical bill in the Senate earlier this year. He said he’s optimistic the bill will have support there.