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May 14, 2021

Alcohol is Taxing Anchorage Resources

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On Wednesday, February 4th , I will be celebrating 30 years of continuous sobriety/clean time. I know too well the toll that abusing alcohol and drugs takes on body, mind, employment, relationships…basically the addict’s entire life as well as the lives of family and friends.

I am also what is called a dually-diagnosed addict so I understand from personal experience that mental illness is a terrible combination with addiction. During my teenage years, substances probably kept me from killing myself but, as is the nature of addiction, my substance abuse gradually turned on me until I was mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. Often substance abuse is the only coping mechanism many severely ill people trust, even when the addiction has long since robbed them of everything.

Understand, I do not hold any grudge against the substances themselves…it’s not their fault I’m an addict and many people can partake quite safely. As a sober person, I’ve even made a living on the alcohol industry through my work both on stage and behind the scenes. However, I also know the deal when it comes to the power of big alcohol in this town and that power’s ability to obfuscate the facts.

Apart from my personal experiences, I have done quite a bit of research on the alcohol and inebriate problem within the City of Anchorage.  Notice I say “inebriate problem,” and not “homeless problem.” While Mayor Sullivan’s Administration has tried successfully to tie the two issues together, they are quite separate. The “homeless problem” involves thousands of folks, mostly children, without a permanent place to stay. Conversely, the “Inebriate problem” is between 100 – 200 chronic alcoholics, often with major mental illness and other health problems, who take up a huge amount of emergency services and public safety time, energy and money.

This year while attending Fairview Community Council Meetings, I also learned that the rules in place for their neighborhood package stores to help prevent these problems…rules that they were supposed to adhere to in order to keep their liquor licenses…were being violated. An APD task force had both stores on video doing just that. I became aware that other neighborhoods were experiencing the same problems. It’s clear that the industry cannot successfully monitor itself.

The topping on the cake was my discovery of exactly how much of our community resources were needed to deal with the problem during a time that those Municipal resources were dwindling. Through reading about police ride-alongs and from police officers themselves, I discovered that the majority of the ENTIRE Anchorage area public safety night shift spends most of its time downtown. With the added problem of the short-sighted “bar-break” on the weekends, this leaves the rest of us vulnerable when it comes to a lack of a preventative traffic presence and longer response times to emergencies.

Another issue is the almost non-existent services for alcoholics, especially chronic inebriates. When attempting to help a fellow alcoholic get treatment, I discovered that there were no more detox facilities available to most folks, especially walk-ins. I also learned there was only one non-religiously-based in-patient treatment facility left (Akeela House) that provided most of their services to court ordered clients. While out-patient facilities work for some, chronic, daily drinkers need detox and in-patient help. Unfortunately, only those with insurance and the ability to fly out of state can get it.

It’s obvious that tax funds are desperately needed to offset the impact of alcohol consumption and abuse in Anchorage and aid in establishing better treatment options. The arguments coming from the tax opponents are both interesting and incorrect.

ARGUMENT: Why can’t we just depend on the State of Alaska alcohol tax? Won’t we be double-taxing the industry?

FACT: There is no mechanism by which an Alaska State tax can be automatically dedicated. It will always be up to the will of the Legislature in power. This Muni tax proposal will dedicate these funds to public safety, treatment…whatever the Assembly agrees to put on the ballot. Also, it will not be subject to the tax cap.

Regarding the “double taxing” argument, Municipal alcohol tax has been popular at every Community conversation series the Mayor has held…both times he decided to hold them. The first time, in 2010, while alcohol tax topped the list (53%), the Mayor chose to go with a large tobacco tax instead (not on the list), even though tobacco was already taxed by the State. The precedent has been set.

ARGUMENT: Aren’t we taxing the vast majority of consumers for the indiscretions of a few?

FACT: Alcoholics consume the vast majority of alcohol.

In their arguments against this tax, the CHARR lobby would have you believe that the majority of Alaskans would be terribly put-upon by this tax. They would not. The largest number of consumers actually drink the smallest amount, therefore will pay the smallest amount of the tax.

According to a recent book, Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control,

“The top 10 percent of American drinkers – 24 million adults over age 18 – consume, on average, 74 alcoholic drinks per week… Or, if you prefer, 10 drinks per day.”

These folks, who buy most of the booze, are the alcoholics. The National Institute of Health says that “about 7.2% of adults (including 10% of men) have an “alcohol use disorder.”

When it comes to Alaska, the statistics are even more staggering. According to the 2013 State of Alaska Epidemiologic Profile on Substance Use, Abuse and Dependency:

– In 2010, ethanol consumption (beer, spirits, and wine) was consistently greater than the nation averages; spirits consumption was nearly 2 times the national average.

(NOTE: That’s 20 drinks per day, folks!)

– The 2010-2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), indicated little change from previous surveys in adult alcohol use; binge (episodic) alcohol use was reported by 23% of adults in Alaska, of which persons aged 18-25 reported 42% binge alcohol use.

Alcoholics and even heavy drinkers are the ones who cause the problems. I seriously doubt the folks raising a ruckus downtown at bar break are light social drinkers. These are the folks who SHOULD bear the brunt of the cost

Normal drinkers will barely make a dent.

Tonight is the last night that the Anchorage Assembly will hear testimony on this tax. They must make their decision tonight in order to get the proposition on the April ballot. PLEASE call or email your Assembly member before the meeting so they have a chance to hear your opinion.

You can also email the entire Assembly at once.

Better yet, C’mon down to the Assembly Chambers about 6:00 pm to testify in person!

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3 Responses to “Alcohol is Taxing Anchorage Resources”
  1. mike from iowa says:

    Is it appropriate to congratulate someone for 30 years of sobriety? If so,many congratulations and much respect and admiration,LKB. I’ve never had to deal with any addiction in my family or extended family and if any “crazy” uncles or aunts had problems,I;ve never heard of any. Hope you get at least 30 more years of sobriety and 30 after that.

  2. juneaudream says:

    Indeed..I found this material..a ‘valuable read’. Within..my family tree..we all ‘use’ alcohol..but in small, measured amounts. Do I know others..who are sick..and cannot step back..from the over-use? I have watched several..over the years..and also..witnessed..them dying..due to kidney failure. A very..ugly..thing to watch happen. They turn..yellow. In my case..I inherited an ability to use/ not abuse..alcohol..thus even when dealing with the cancer..and treatments..used either..a six ounce glass of ale..or..a 3 ounce glass of wine..daily..7 days a week, and total 360 days per year..year in, and..year out. At first the Drs..were quite..concerned. After a few years they decided..it..fits me..and stopped crabbing about it.

  3. Zyxomma says:

    I had no idea that alcoholics consume MOST of the alcohol. When I open a bottle of wine, which I drink rarely, I know most of it is going to end up in my cooking, because I won’t drink more than a glass or two. Enlightening post, Linda.

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