A different, better alcohol tax will be on the ballot in April

We represent East Anchorage, West Anchorage and Midtown, and have knocked on thousands of doors throughout those districts. Regardless of the district, the top issues our constituents raise again and again are public safety, quality of life and the ongoing challenge of homelessness. They want to live in a safe, vibrant city with a budget that reflects our values.

But what does that mean for Anchorage, where the level of public health and safety services is inadequate to address the community need? A shortage of substance misuse and behavioral health treatment has resulted in a growing crisis that plays out in our emergency rooms and on our streets. More than 50% of adult women in Anchorage have experienced intimate partner violence and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Reports to child protective services are at an all time high. Our law enforcement numbers have grown, but our police force is still far smaller than those in comparably-sized cities.

We know that we can no longer count on state government to fix our problems for us. We, Anchorage residents, must step up.

In April, Anchorage residents will vote on Proposition 13, which would establish dedicated funding for public health and safety by enacting a 5% tax on alcohol. By chipping in only 40 cents more on an $8 six-pack, together we would raise $10 million-$15 million per year to address our community’s biggest challenges.

The Municipality gets tax revenue from cigarettes and marijuana, but not from alcohol. Other Alaska communities, including Fairbanks, Juneau, Kotzebue and Dillingham, levy modest alcohol taxes. It’s time for Anchorage to join them.

Last spring, an imperfect alcohol tax proposal narrowly failed at the ballot box. Over the course of the past year, we have listened to our neighbors and crafted a new proposal that addresses their concerns.

This time, the ballot measure would place a requirement in our charter that the revenue from the tax be dedicated to:

  • Funding for police, related criminal justice personnel and first responders;
  • Funding to combat and address child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence; and
  • Funding for substance misuse treatment, prevention programs, detoxification or long-term addiction recovery facilities, mental and behavioral health programs, and resources to prevent and address Anchorage’s homelessness crisis.

This time, the language of the ballot language is clear: The Assembly cannot unilaterally raise the tax amount once approved. Only a vote of the people can do that. Furthermore, based on a proposal from the Municipality’s Budget Advisory Commission, the money will be placed in a separate account, outside the general fund, with an annual reporting requirement. The Assembly has already approved a process that would engage the public to determine the best use of the funds, within those dedicated categories, should the proposal pass.

The new proposal has garnered support from organizations including Brown Jug Alaska, Providence Health & Services Alaska, Alaska Children’s Trust, and the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association.

The alcohol tax would result in the most significant municipal investment in treatment and prevention in recent memory, and would provide a sustainable, community-wide match to the private dollars recently pledged to reduce homelessness. More treatment options would provide relief across the city, from emergency rooms to shelters to distressed households. The Municipality would be able to support and scale up evidence-based community programs that have a track record of preventing child abuse and domestic violence in Anchorage. And more police and first responders would increase our capacity to deter and respond to crime.

This measure will not solve every problem, but it will make a lasting and noticeable difference. The need for additional resources is undeniable. We’re not a community that sees a problem and waits for someone else to fix it. Our neighbors want to be part of the solution. This April, we have that chance.

Austin Quinn-Davidson, Felix Rivera, and Forrest Dunbar represent West Anchorage, Midtown, and East Anchorage on the Anchorage Assembly.

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