City wants voters to approve alcohol tax for homeless services
Anchorage residents will pay more for a drink or a bottle of wine if voters approve an alcohol tax on the April ballot.
The Berkowitz administration proposed the retail tax as a way to pay for social services involving the homeless. Unlike the state, the city can dedicate funds for a specific purpose, explained Berkowitz chief of staff Ona Brause. She said money raised from the tax could not be used to fund general government.
"This is a quality of life issue for the entire city," Brause said. "These funds are dedicated with specific language limiting it to public health and public safety issues relating to homelessness, alcohol and substance misuse, treatment, prevention and behavioral programs."
Brause was the speaker at Monday's Anchorage Chamber of Commerce luncheon. In a PowerPoint presentation, she shared details of the proposed tax from the city's perspective.
Voters will be asked to approve a 5 percent retail tax that consumers would pay anywhere they buy alcohol, including bars and liquor stores. That means a $10 cocktail would be taxed 50 cents, a six pack of beer might be an additional 40 cents. The city says the tax would raise between $11 million to $15 million every year and residents would know exactly how the money would be spent.
"There would be an annual report to the assembly and to the public specifically about how each of these dollars was spent, and the progress that was made on each of the programs that the money went to," she said. "We will make sure that this money is being spent in a way that is actually resulting in a change."
The proposal is getting mixed reviews from the liquor industry. Brown Jug, one of the state's biggest retailers, supports the tax.
"We really want to support our community," said Kari McKitrick, the Alaska area manager for the store. "It's the right thing and responsible thing to do within the community to find those programs that can help fund the issues that going on within the community."
But some bar owners are vowing to fight it. Darwin Biwer Jr., longtime owner of Darwin's Theory downtown, said he's tired of being asked to pay for society's ills.
"This problem has been going on for years and now they're just going to make the liquor industry pay for all this?" he said.
Biwer is also president of the Cook Inlet affiliate of the Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association (CHARR). Sarah Oates, president and CEO of Alaska CHARR, said the statewide organization "is vehemently opposed to the proposed Anchorage alcohol tax."
Biwer, who's concerned about losing customers if it costs more to drink at a bar, said his industry is prepared to fight the tax. He pointed to several examples where CHARR was successful in defeating similar proposals.
"We've already beat an alcohol tax in Nome, and Kodiak and in the Valley not too long ago," he said. "They are going to have a big surprise when this vote comes out and the people are going to hate it."
Anchorage voters will have their say in April. If the proposal passes, it would go into effect in January 2020.
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