Mayor Proposes Alcohol Tax to Pay for Substance Abuse Treatment

The mayor of Anchorage, AK Ethan Berkowitz wants to ask voters’ permission to enact a new retail sales tax that would be dedicated to substance abuse treatment and homelessness services. The five percent tax is necessary, since state-level support is declining.

Local Tax to be Used to Pay for Public Health Programs

This local tax would be collected and used for a number of public health and safety programs, including the following: • Clearing illegal camps • A substance abuse treatment center • An expanded Anchorage Safety Patrol The tax money collected could also be used for: • Cold-weather housing and shelter • Storing personal property seized from illegal camps • Anchorage’s “Mobile Intervention Team,” made up of social workers and a firefighter, who triage homeless campers • Building a future “Alaska Center for Treatment,” or matching funds for private investment in a center Mayor Berkowitz stated recently that unfortunately alcohol is “an incredibly profitable business in this town.” He went on to say that it’s a cost-causer that isn’t paying the cost.

Voter Majority Needed to Bring in New Alcohol Tax for Treatment

The tax proposal will be introduced to the Alaska Assembly shortly. It needs eight Assembly votes to be placed on the April 2019 ballot. If a majority of voters indicate they are in favor of the measure, the new tax will be brought into effect. Three Assembly members have signed on to co-sponsor the tax proposal: Dick Traini, Eric Croft and Felix Rivera. This isn’t the first time an alcohol tax has been proposed to the Assembly. Similar measures have been proposed on seven other occasions since 1984. Traini was involved in three of those efforts (1994, 2015 and 2017). Citizens have pushed for ballot initiatives in 2004 and 2007. The city can choose to dedicate revenue to specific programs. According to Mayor Berkowitz, the alcohol tax would raise $11-$15 million. This amount would replace state revenue that has fallen in recent years. The tax would amount to the following for different types of alcohol bought in Anchorage: • $0.40 on a six-pack of beer • $0.50 for a $10 mixed drink • $1.75 for a $35 bottle of wine • $2.50 for a $50 bottle of liquor The Assembly could create exemptions for certain types of alcohol.