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Guest Post: Why I’m voting for the proposed Anchorage Alcohol Tax

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.

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ASEA

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

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Union Yes

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. 

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Josh

Why should those of us who use alcohol have to pay this tax for social programs? If the public school system is in such disarray, why don’t we fund that by taxing infant formula, diapers, and other child specific items? You said Anchorage needs to come together and build the city we want to live in. Shouldn’t that argument mean we should all be paying taxes to have all these nice things, not just those who choose to spend their hard earned money on a drug that’s legal in this country? Just call it exactly what it is: it’s a… Read more »

???

So… to help poor children, you’d tax their parents extra as they buy food for their babies? Just trying to understand you, because that makes no sense.

Josh

Me? No, I wouldn’t tax them. Or the people who drink alcohol. My point was that they shouldn’t be taxing specific products and saying it’s to cover specific, related social costs. The argument is that that alcohol is repsonsible for crime and homelessness, right? Children are responsible for the need for a public school system. With this logic that only people who drink alcohol should help pay for the city’s homeless solution, then only people with children should pay for the school system, right?

Tiffany

Alcohol taxes are proven to be one of the best public health solutions to the harms caused by alcohol, and here in Alaska alcohol was identified as the top health issue according to Healthy Alaskans 2020. Alcohol taxes reduce underage drinking and binge drinking (while showing no impact on low-risk levels of drinking), and reduce alcohol-related disease and death. So even if they weren’t using the money to fund additional treatment and prevention, it would still be an evidence-based solution.

Frustrated Property Owner

When they came for the 10 cent per gallon tax (without a vote of the people), most of us just gripped about it. Roads still need improvement, potholes are worse, and traffic stinks. When ASD brazenly asked for, and got an additional $100 million in March, the Assembly passed it because of QOL, it’s for the children, ugh! Now, going after liquor in a state with some of the highest liquor taxes already. So much feel good speak about what you and the rubber stamping assembly are doing is driving people out of Anchorage. When no one’s here to pay… Read more »

TIFFANY HALL

Alaska does have a high excise tax on alcohol, but when you look at the full picture including sales tax in 45 other states, as well as county and local level taxes, Alaska is actually in the lowest third in terms of overall alcohol tax. Additionally, did you know the Federal government just gave the alcohol industry a big tax break last year? They did. And people won’t leave because there’s an alcohol tax; see above – 45 other states have sales taxes, not to mention income taxes! If people are trying to go somewhere with fewer taxes they will… Read more »

Chris

Thank you for clearing this up Chris. One can just look at all the adds put up by the special interests (including on this site) to see that our community needs to be better informed about issues and skeptical of big spending ad campaigns that are not upfront about their own incentives, but are intended to sway the public’s perception.

If possible add Apple Pay option for donations to the site. I pledge $20 once that is an option. Good work Jeff, thank you for providing a balance of information to your readers.

Mavo

By the same logic we should put a tax on opioids – amirite? Cause it’s just a genetic defect that only some people who buy (prescribed) opioids get hooked on opioids. Through no fault of their own. And only the other genetically privileged people who also buy (prescribed) opioids who don’t get hooked on these drugs should pick up the prescription bar tab for those who get hooked on opioids – amirite? Don’t hate the sinner, just the sin, and pass the tax hat to the righteous, cause the log in their eye prevents them from seeing the error of… Read more »

What liberals never take into account is a truism found in the movie “Field of Dreams”: “Build it and they will come”. You will never be able to keep up with the infrastructure needed to keep up with the drug abusers. The more created, the more will step in to take advantage. Liberalism cannot take into account basic human behavior patterns and believes they can change human behavior. Unfortunately, this is always at the expense of the hard-working taxpayer.