My name is Christopher Constant. I represent Downtown, South Addition, Fairview, Mountain View, and Government Hill on the Anchorage Assembly. I read the argument against the proposed alcohol tax by Darwin Biwer and decided I had to respond. If a bar’s servers were as loose with their pours as he is with the facts, they’d be having a really difficult conversation with the AMCO board. His commentary, earning points for creativity, plays loose with the truth. Darwin is entitled to his theories, but not his own facts. I will now attempt to clarify a few things.
The wealthy alcohol lobby has worked hard to sow confusion about the proposed alcohol tax on Tuesday’s ballot. The loudest argument they have made is that this is “just another tax grab.” Anybody living in Anchorage who has been paying even just modest attention to the problems we are facing right now knows that substance abuse is driving crime, illegal encampments in our parks, car thefts, and many of the social ills we are experiencing in our community.
My neighbors have been demanding a solution that provides some discipline and order in our public spaces while simultaneously moving people from the camps and street corners into shelters and treatment. Every single intervention requires investment. Doing nothing is not an option.
This tax is intended to help solve some of the issues Anchorage has been facing as a community for years. We have all seen the rise in property crime and car theft, people experiencing homelessness, the lack of alcohol and substance abuse and mental health treatment beds. This administration and Assembly have been working hard to increase the number of police officers on the street, give first responders new tools to tackle issues, abate camps swiftly while providing storage and overflow shelter as required by law, and find more scattered site affordable housing or housing first options. We have made progress, but there is so much more to be done.
Some proposed projects are:
- Camp Abatement and Trail and Neighborhood Safety
$1,500,000 increase of homeless camp cleanup, Neighborhood Watch, and trails support
- Anchorage Safety Patrol Expansion to Midtown and South Anchorage
$1,000,000 increase in Anchorage Safety Patrol services to expand the program boundary to south of Tudor including overflow shelter
- Increased access to Mental Health and Substance Abuse Intervention
$3,500,000 to increase crisis response through AFD and APD. Crisis stabilization and assessment services for mental health and substance use emergencies
- Increased access to Substance use disorder treatment
$5,500,000 for construction and operation of a substance treatment facility
- Increased Housing Interventions
$2,000,000 for Pay for Success housing program to house people experiencing homelessness who have substance abuse needs
The exact language from the Charter amendment states that Anchorage residents will be voting to tax alcohol at 5% and dedicate the funds to “alcohol and substance misuse prevention and treatment, community behavioral health programs, public safety, and homelessness prevention and response, including abatement of prohibited campsites.” The funds cannot be used to fund general government services like the Mayor’s office budget or Solid Waste Services – the only provision is to fund a position to administer the tax if needed. And while the State government is constitutionally barred from designating funds, we are not.
If there was ever an attempt to raise the tax, we would have to go back to the voters for approval, just like in this election. The public will also be involved in how the money is spent, the progress of the programs or initiatives funded, and input if funds should be spent in another manner. Like all budget processes, funds generated have to be appropriated and approved by the Assembly. Which means there will be public work sessions, public Assembly meetings, and public reports.
As for the change to have 50% + 1 of qualified voters needed to pass the tax, this update was needed to get the Municipality in line with the State Constitution. There were also past elections where voters passed taxes with dedicated funds like the 2005 vote to enact a bed tax and dedicate the funds to construct the Dena’ina Center. As well as the 2016 election to tax marijuana at 5% with no dedicated funds.
Finally, I want to assert that this isn’t a tax on the alcohol industry, but rather it is a tax on all of us who choose to use alcohol. It isn’t the bar or the package store who pays, but it will be you and me. I personally am willing to pay this fee to do some good in the community. I hope you are too.
For the past several years, Anchorage has been working hard to ensure we take care of our own. The instability and uncertainty in Juneau and Washington demonstrate that Anchorage needs to come together and build the city we want to live in – a community with safe, clean parks and trails, robust public safety agencies, and the services available to those in need. We have to take our fate into our own hands.
There is an old aphorism that fits very well this situation – “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” This alcohol tax will help the whole community. I hope you will join me in voting yes on Proposition 9, the Alcohol Tax, by April 2nd to make a marked difference in the health of our community. If this proposition passes, I will raise a toast to your health.
Chris Constant has represented Downtown, South Addition, Fairview, Mountain View, and Government Hill on the Anchorage Assembly since 2017. Prior to that he was active in the Fairview Community Council, serving twice as president.