May 2, 2002 Alaska Newspapers Inc. backs increase in state alcohol excise tax

Posted: Monday, May 06, 2002

State trooper reports have an all-too-common theme: Alcohol believed to be a factor.

A young girl was raped? A teen-ager killed himself? A grandmother was assaulted? It's a good bet alcohol was involved.

The enormous social consequences are the primary reason legislators should pass the alcohol tax proposed by Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage.

Though much has been done in recent years, alcohol abuse is still listed as one of the most serious health problems in the Native community.

The statistics are staggering. In 1999, 55 percent of misdemeanor assaults, including domestic-violence assaults, were related to alcohol in rural communities, according to the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Ninety-seven percent of all crimes committed by Alaska Natives are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs, with alcohol being the primary contributor, according to the Alaska Native Commission.

But alcohol is an equal opportunity destroyer. It hurts everyone. Even those who have never touched a drop in their lives.

There are the obvious alcohol-related traffic fatalities, murders and attacks. But there's the not-so-obvious fact that we're all paying about $453 million a year to fix the problems wrought by alcohol.

Some of that cost could be reduced by passing Murkowski's dime-a-drink proposal. The bill would increase the excise tax to 13 cents per drink on beer and wine and 14 cents a drink on hard liquor, raising the state's income from alcohol tax from about $12 million to about $34 million.

That's virtually nothing compared to the nearly $1 billion deficit the state faces, but the savings would grow over time. For one thing, the money raised could be used to combat alcoholism. And it would reduce the problems alcohol creates by making it harder for those who drink excessively to continue drinking.

The Republican majority -- facing an important election season -- doesn't seem interested in passing a broad fiscal plan. But if it does nothing else, it should muster its courage and pass the alcohol tax. We'll all be better off.

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