Last year, at Anchorage Municipal Elections, citizens voted for a 5% tax increase on alcohol. Despite a well-funded and aggressive Big Alcohol campaign against the proposed local tax, the people of Anchorage rejected Big Alcohol and came out in support for higher alcohol taxation.
The tax increase is estimated to raise between $11 million to $15 million in revenue.
Based on a $11.8 million estimate, the revenue was to be spent as follows:
- The largest amount, $4.5 million, would go to substance use prevention, treatment programs and assistance for the homeless – $2 million for treatment centres and just over $2.5 million for shelters;
- $4.1 million would go to public safety – $1.7 million to fund 6 new police officer positions and 9 non-sworn support positions for the police department. $700,000 for additional prosecutors and public defenders and $1.7 million would be for firefighter/paramedics and mental health clinicians; and
- $3.1 million would be spent on preventing child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence – to be given in the form of grants, with half going to early education grants and half going to abuse prevention providers.
Communities want common sense investments
This year, communities represented by the Anchorage Theory of Positive Change Coalition including Recover Alaska, a Movendi International member organization, are calling on the Mayor to stay true to the initial vision for the investments to be made with the revenue citizens voted for when raising the alcohol tax.
The three core areas voters approved were:
- public safety;
- preventing child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence; and
- preventing and treating substance use disorder, homelessness and mental health emergencies.
Nevertheless, the alcohol tax budget for 2022 proposed by Mayor Dave Bronson is not fully in line with the vision and intent of voters when approving the funds.
Several actions proposed represent a concerning departure from prevention to costly, reaction-based crisis response and an imbalance of priorities:
- Cuts to early education funding by $1 million (a 50% cut to new pre-kindergarten classrooms);
- Cuts to funding for prevention grants by $250,000 (13%) – meaning less money supporting Anchorage families;
- Elimination of the newly created Mobile Crisis Team (mental health first responders);
- Cuts to grants to victims of interpersonal violence organizations by $250,000;
- Plans of using almost two-thirds of alcohol tax revenue on the homelessness response; and
- Funding multiple Anchorage Health Department positions not related to alcohol harm.
In 2020, over 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 the health, safety, and quality of life in Anchorage.
Recover Alaska and partners are advocating for better investments of the alcohol tax raise. They emphasize that resources needed be directed to the solutions that work to tackle the root causes of the societal issues affecting Anchorage. Continuing to only fund emergency response was not such a solution. Instead, the city needed to make long-term investments to prevent and reduce alcohol harm and eliminate obstacles to opportunities for all Anchorage residents.
Research showed prevention works, saving both lives and resources. But emergency response was incredibly expensive; prevention investments on average were seven times more cost-effective, and improved safety in the community long term, according to the community groups. Equitable, evidence-based investments must be made in preventing substance use disorder, child abuse and neglect, sexual assault and domestic violence, and improving mental health.
The coalition calls to honor the will of voters and give these investments a chance to achieve real results.
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,” stated The Anchorage Theory of Positive Change Coalition, as per Anchorage Daily News.
The Anchorage Theory of Positive Change Coalition