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April 4: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on taxing drinkers:

Posted: Monday, April 09, 2001

Alaskans, more than most, are familiar with the terrible costs attached to alcohol consumption.

From explosive incidents of domestic violence to lifelong impairments arising from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, drinking to excess is at the root of many of Alaska's worst social problems.

One study conservatively pegged the cost to government of alcohol-related expenditures in Alaska at a $250 million annually. Contrast that whopping burden on taxpayers with the paltry $12 million this state collects each year through an excise tax on booze wholesalers.

Lawmakers are considering several proposals to raise the state's alcohol tax.

Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Kim Elton, would boost the state's wholesale alcohol tax to the equivalent of 25-cents per drink. ''That doesn't amount to much in a period of time I'm spending $3 for a latte,'' Elton says.

The Juneau Democrat is no stranger to the issue, having introduced a similar bill in the last Legislature. To those who argue that additional alcohol tax dollars, like other revenues, will simply fuel growth in unrelated government programs, Elton responds that taxes of this nature carry an implied ''moral commitment'' for use, as intended, in state alcohol enforcement and treatment programs.

''The Legislature can't dedicate a tax, but we've never wavered in our use of ASMI (seafood marketing) assessments, or aquaculture assessments,'' he said.

''Assuming there's a commitment made up front, I don't see why an alcohol tax would be any different.''

(This state has freely used Tobacco Settlement dollars and cigarette tax revenues for unrelated programs and projects -- but that's for another editorial.)

House Bill 225, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Murkowski, calls for a more modest combination of taxes, adding the equivalent of 10-cents per drink to the state's alcohol tax. As presently written, Murkowski's bill would return a portion of a state alcohol sales tax to municipalities, but the legal complexities of that approach have her leaning toward simply raising the state's wholesale alcohol tax.

''There are people who just don't want any taxes. Others recognize that we haven't raised the state's alcohol tax in 18 years,'' Murkowski said. She believes she has the support of key GOP colleagues in the House Majority to raise fees collected from an industry from about $12 million to $33 million.

As for the state alcohol tax now on the books:

Discussing the issue on a revenue panel Wednesday, former Gov. Jay Hammond observed: ''You know if you haven't raised a tax since 1983, in effect, actually that tax has gone down.''

Alaska presently collects the equivalent of 3.2 cents per drink on beer, 3.3 cents per drink on wine, and 4.3 cents per drink on hard liquor.

Keep those pennies in mind, if and when, the alcohol sales industry starts howling in opposition to Murkowski's ''300 percent'' increase in state alcohol taxes.

We'll raise a glass -- and that's no joke -- to the success of the campaign to collect more reasonable compensation from an industry whose profits, though lawful, often come at terrible cost to society. It's reasonable that Alaskans who choose to imbibe should pay, in the form of costs passed down by retailers, a rising share of alcohol's mounting tab.



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