The Anchorage Assembly on Thursday night overwhelmingly approved a proposal from Mayor Ethan Berkowitz asking voters to consider a 5 percent alcohol retail sales tax next April. 

The Assembly approved the charter amendment proposition 10-1, with Assemblyman John Weddleton voting no.

The evening's vote concluded a debate that began Tuesday night with more than two hours of public testimony before time ran out, forcing the Assembly to continue the meeting Thursday.

Should it pass, the tax would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Berkowitz and supporters want the funds raised from the tax — an estimated $13 million annually — to help address homelessness and substance abuse prevention programs. Assembly Chair Eric Croft and colleagues, Dick Traini and Felix Rivera also sponsored the ordinance.

Those opposing the measure say it targets a single industry to solve substance abuse problems, also calling it ill-timed, given the state's recession and damage to some businesses during the 7.0 earthquake last month.

"The industry has told us this is not fair and I agree with them," Weddleton said. "Not all these problems are alcohol problems."

Assemblyman Chris Constant disagreed.

"This is not a tax on the industry; this is a tax on me," Constant said. "This is a tax on every bottle of wine in my wine collection, every bottle of bourbon in my bourbon collection. I'm willing to pay that tax."

Both sides agree on one thing: They are disappointed at the state Legislature for not using state alcohol tax to help communities with homelessness and substance abuse troubles.

This, said Berkowitz, is what's driving the proposal. He said if the state can no longer afford to help its communities, then municipalities should take the initiative.

"I think it's important for Anchorage to do things for ourselves," he said. "We're not waiting for Juneau to move. We're not waiting for Washington D.C. to move. We're taking charge of our own destiny."

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