On April 2, Anchorage voters were asked whether or not to amend the municipal charter and create a modest sales tax on alcoholic beverages. The votes are in, and the tax has failed.
Had it passed, the revenue generated from the tax would have been dedicated to some of the most essential services in our city, including detox, behavioral health treatment, housing options, camp abatement, and public safety. Through AFACT (Anchorage Faith and Action — Congregations Together), congregations around Anchorage have recently moved to action on all of these issues, which share a common denominator: They are not adequately funded.
As members of faith communities, we know deeply the pain felt by many in our community because of inadequate funding for these services. We believe that the way we build our budget is an expression of our values. As it stands, our community is not providing enough resources for many of the most vulnerable among us.
During the past several years, budget cuts have led to a crisis in behavioral health care in Alaska. The situation reached a boiling point last fall, when a lawsuit was filed against the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees API, after it was reported that people going through psychiatric episodes were being held in jails due to a lack of hospital beds. The fact is, Anchorage faces a growing population of people experiencing homelessness with unmet behavioral health needs.
Our homeless neighbors’ situation could potentially worsen. If passed, the proposed budget cuts for the state of Alaska could affect people who rely on housing and homeless services. Among other measures, the cuts would drop funding from $7.9 million to $950,000 for a program run through the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation that helps homeless families and individuals transition into permanent housing.
People seeking help with substance misuse issues are faring no better. There are only 14 publicly funded detox beds in our city, which falls far short of the average 60-90 requests for those beds made daily.
The alcohol tax would have provided funding for these services. Over the past month, leaders from AFACT distributed more than a thousand educational pamphlets and led discussions with hundreds of neighbors on the proposed tax and the issues surrounding it. In each of these sessions, AFACT leaders posed a similar question: “If not this tax, then what? What are our options?”
Anchorage must now consider these questions. We have said ‘no’ to the tax, but we still need better funding for these critical services. The responsibility now rests with all of us to work with service providers and public officials to ensure that everyone in our community has access to the services that they need.
Rev. Jeff Hackler is an AFACT member and the Pastor of Central Lutheran Church.
Don Crandall is an AFACT member and attends the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
Pat Hayward is an AFACT member and attends St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.
Jim Bell is an AFACT member and belongs to Catholic Native Ministry.
Karol Libbey is an AFACT member and attends St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
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