Opinions

Invest Anchorage’s alcohol tax funds the way voters intended

In April 2020, voters acknowledged the way we have been approaching treatment and safety is not working and began to reimagine an Anchorage that invested more in prevention by passing Proposition 13. When casting their ballots, residents not only approved a new revenue stream, but directed it to fund three core areas: public safety; preventing child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence; and preventing and treating substance misuse, homelessness and mental health emergencies. This decision by our community sent a clear message — we want to invest in strategies that work upstream, that prevent issues before they plague our community.

The Anchorage Theory of Positive Change Coalition is concerned the alcohol tax budget proposed by Mayor Dave Bronson is not fully in line with the vision and intent voters had when approving the funds. The coalition urges Mayor Bronson and members of the Anchorage Assembly to satisfy the will of Anchorage voters by ensuring effective and equitable distribution of alcohol tax revenues in the FY22 that reflects what voters intended for these new funds.

In reviewing the fiscal year 2022 alcohol tax budget as currently proposed, several actions represent a concerning departure from prevention to costly, reaction-based crisis response and an imbalance of priorities:

• Cuts early education funding by $1 million (a 50% cut to new pre-kindergarten classrooms).

• Cuts funding for prevention grants by $250,000 (13%); that’s less money supporting Anchorage families.

• Eliminates the newly created Mobile Crisis Team (mental health first responders).

• Cuts grants to Victims of Interpersonal Violence organizations by $250,000.

• Proposes using almost two-thirds of alcohol tax dollars on homelessness response.

• Funds multiple Anchorage Health Department positions not related to alcohol tax funding areas.

In summer 2020, more than 200 individuals and organizations came together to develop a Theory of Positive Change for Anchorage. This provided a framework for measurable change in the trajectory of our health, safety, and quality of life in Anchorage: we cannot make meaningful reductions in our troubling community outcomes without investing in our future, and closing the gaps that limit opportunities for all Anchorage residents to succeed. We need to direct resources to what works and gets to the root causes of these societal issues, rather than continuing to only fund emergency response.

Just as health and safety issues facing Anchorage did not begin overnight, they will take time to reduce and resolve. Real results take time, but research shows prevention works, saving both lives and resources. Emergency response is incredibly expensive; prevention investments on average are seven times more cost-effective, and improve safety in our community long term. Without this paradigm shift in how we address these problems, annual spending on emergency response will only increase. We need to make equitable, evidence-based investments in preventing substance misuse, child abuse and neglect, sexual assault and domestic violence, and improving mental health. Let us honor the will of voters and give these investments a chance to achieve real results.

Thank you for your consideration, and your service to our community. Together, we can make Anchorage safer and healthier for all.

Celeste Hodge Growden is the president and CEO of the Alaska Black Caucus.

Trevor Storrs is president and CEO of Alaska Children’s Trust.

Tiffany Hall serves as executive director of Recover Alaska.

Emmanuel Portillo is director of the Anchorage Youth Development Coalition.

Ptery Leight is a member of the Houseless Resources Advocacy Council

Jason Lessard is executive director of NAMI Anchorage.

Jim Nordlund is executive director of NeighborWorks Alaska.

D. Sheneé Williams is executive director of Shiloh Community Housing, Inc.

This commentary is co-signed by the following individuals: Eleanor Andrews, Sid Atwood, Joan L. Fisher, Jared Gould, Dick Mandsager, Heidi McCroskey Heimerl, Anna McGovern, Erin Moriearty, Jonathan Pistotnik and Dawn Shewmaker.

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