Taxes aren’t popular, especially taxes on alcohol. But that’s what Anchorage voters are being asked to do in this April’s municipal election – impose a 5 percent tax on retail alcohol sales. 

The city says if the tax is approved by a majority of voters, it will raise more than $13 million. The money would be dedicated to helping to fight homelessness and addiction in Anchorage, which means it could be used to fund alcohol and substance abuse treatment, housing programs, mental health services, public safety and homeless camp clean-ups. 

This week on Frontiers, we look at the pros and cons of an alcohol tax. Here are some of the highlights:

  • To tax or not to tax: why it may be hard to predict how Anchorage voters will decide this issue. Even neighborhoods with homeless camps next door are divided about whether a tax would solve the problems. 
  • Faces of hope: why Rose Hubbard and Hank Wentz, who have both experienced homelessness, say they support the tax.
  • Featured guest: Nancy Burke, Anchorage’s Housing and Homeless Coordinator gives details on how tax revenues would be used.

The Anchorage Municipal Election will be conducted with mail-in ballots that go out this week.

If Ballot Measure 9 is approved, a 5 percent retail tax on alcoholic beverages would go into effect on January 1, 2020.

So what would this tax look like?

It would add about $0.40 to an $8.00 six-pack of beer. For a $10.00 mixed drink, you would pay about $0.50 more. A $35.00 bottle of wine would cost you an extra $1.75. You’d pay $2.50 for a $50.00 bottle of liquor.

Supporters say it’s a small price to pay for the devastation addiction causes.

Opponents wonder whether the tax will have some unintended consequences that will hurt the economy and possibly make Anchorage’s homeless problem worse. They point to cities like Seattle, which have spent more to fight homelessness, only to see the problem get worse.

One thing we do know: state funding will probably not increase to meet the needs -- and is more likely to go down, given Alaska’s current budget crisis, while demand for treatment services continues to grow. A sobering thought.

 

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