I am not someone who gets excited about taxes. Initially, I was not in favor of the alcohol tax. But I have changed my mind, will vote yes on Proposition 13, and would like to explain why.
I’ve come to appreciate how much we are already paying because of alcohol misuse. The numbers are staggering. Alcohol misuse creates $2.4 billion in costs that are shouldered by Alaska businesses and taxpayers. To some, these costs are hidden. Others — the first responders, the ER doctors — see every day how we all pay. An alcohol tax shifts more responsibility to those who create the costs. The highest consumers of alcohol pay the most. To me, that just seems fair.
I am also reassured that this ballot measure includes language that ensures a high level of transparency and accountability to the public. The funds from the tax would be dedicated to the purposes outlined in the initiative: public safety, addressing child abuse and sexual assault, increasing behavioral health and substance misuse treatment, and countering our city’s crisis of homelessness. The funds will be placed in a separate account, outside of the general fund. Every year, the administration is required to provide a report to the Assembly and the public about how the funds were spent.
But more than that, I have come to view this issue as a test of who we are as a community. Some recent Lower 48 transplants to Alaska commented to me: “In California, people felt like our enemy. In Alaska, people are our friends.” If a driver slides off of the road in Alaska, they will not have to wait long for someone else to pull over and help. We do not ask why they slid — we just help. I am proud of our community for that.
There are folks here who have slid off the road of life. There always will be. We must continue to be a community that pulls over to help.
I belong to a network of churches that shelters homeless families on cold nights. There are compassionate volunteers across the municipality who dedicate themselves to the neediest among us. But we are maxed out. The need in this community is too great for a volunteer response. We need support.
To be sure, some folks pulled out of the ditch will slide right back off the road. But I believe we are a community that doesn’t look the other way when someone requires help.
When something needs to get done, we can either do it ourselves or pay someone to do it. I have no more desire to pay more taxes than the next person, but taxes are the mechanism we have to pay for community-wide benefit.
We all know something should be done. This April, I hope we do not look the other way.
George S. Rhyneer, Sr. is a retired cardiologist living in Eagle River, a founding member of Alaska Heart and Vascular Institute and founder of the Alaska Medicare Clinic. George is also the volunteer chair of Yes for A Safe, Healthy Anchorage, the group formed to support Proposition 13.
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