Anchorage alcohol tax goes into effect in February. Here’s where the funds are set to go

Published: Nov. 29, 2020 at 9:31 AM AKST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2020 at 9:32 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage’s alcohol tax, which takes effect Feb. 1, 2021, is expected to bring the Municipality of Anchorage around $12-$13 million in tax revenues.

Because of language in the tax, that money can’t go into the general fund and instead must be used for new budget items to address three broad categories:

  • Public safety and first responders
  • Child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence
  • Mental health, substance misuse and homelessness

The recently-passed 2021 operating budget for the municipality is the first to include allocations for the tax revenues.

“The allocations that the assembly came up with after months and months of talking with community partners, going through work sessions, committee meetings, fit almost evenly, but not exactly, into those three buckets,” said Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera.

For first responders and public safety, the budget funds a new team of mental health first responders through the Anchorage Fire Department, a new prosecutor and clerk in the Municipal Attorney’s office to target child abuse and sexual assault, as well as new non-sworn staff for the Anchorage Police Department. Rivera said the non-sworn staff is to keep up with the growth in officers the department has seen in recent years.

“When you add additional officers on the street, you need folks, clerk staff, who are working to keep up with a lot of the crime reports that are being done, a lot of the evidence that’s coming in,” he said.

The second bucket, addressing child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence, will fund a number of different competitive grants to be distributed by the municipality over 2021. One major focus of those grants will be on early education and literacy.

“When you help people before they are in crisis by providing treatment, or providing counseling, or providing early education, and you can help them before they get to the point where they need an emergency room, or they are going to jail, it’s just so much cheaper, it’s so much more cost-effective,” said Tiffany Hall, executive director of Recover Alaska, a nonprofit that advocates for reducing excessive use of alcohol and the harms that come with it.

In the final bucket, mental health, substance misuse and homelessness, the tax will help fund a day shelter and engagement center, a substance misuse treatment center and Home For Good, a program through the United Way of Anchorage to get high-frequency users of Anchorage’s emergency services into supportive housing.

One additional item the tax will pay for is half of the municipality’s new Office of Equity and Justice, which Hall argued fits into multiple of the tax’s three categories.

“If we ever want to see meaningful improvements in any one of those areas, public safety, alcohol use disorders, homelessness, all of them, we have to address the race-based disparities that are playing part in it,” she said.

Celeste Hodge-Growden, president and CEO of the Alaska Black Caucus, also participated in conversations around the tax’s revenues. She said the new office, along with many of the programs and grants funded by the tax, is a great opportunity to address long-standing issues of equity.

“With this chief equity position, I’m hoping that that’ll be a position where we’ll take a look at some of these streams of funding to make sure that they’re equitable and that they’re applied throughout our diverse community groups,” she said.

Overall, the budget dedicates around $11.5 million, which goes under the estimates for the tax’s revenues. Rivera said that as the tax rolls out and its actual revenues become more clear, the assembly and administration will be able to adapt.

“We have the ability, as the legislative body and the appropriating body, to either ratchet that up, or if we don’t end up getting $11 million from the alcohol tax, ratchet that down,” he said. “So we’ll have to see how the funds come in as the months roll on.”

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