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Borough alcohol-tax proposal on Mat-Su ballot

Posted: September 30, 2013 - 12:00am

ANCHORAGE — Voters in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough will decide in Tuesday’s election on whether to allow the borough to enact a 5 percent tax on areawide alcohol sales.

The tax would offset the burden on property tax payers, but opponents say the measure unfairly targets a specific industry.

The proposed tax was introduced in June by borough Assemblyman Steve Colligan. It was approved the following month for the ballot.

Colligan said he sees the measure simply as a sales tax, KSKA reported.

“Why should property owners be bearing the full burden,” he said. “We’ll see how the public reacts and go from there.”

Under the proposed ordinance being considered, alcohol purveyors would have to apply for and receive a nontransferable certificate of registration from the borough. Alcohol sellers would collect the tax at the time of sale and the borough finance director could conduct audits and investigations into tax receipts of sellers. Revenues would go into the borough’s general fund, to be spent on emergency services and education.

Opponents include the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel and Restaurant and Retailers Association. CHARR president Dale Fox said the real problem with Prop B1 is that there is no assurance tax revenues from liquor will be well spent.

“If Mat-Su voters are liberal enough to arbitrarily tax a segment of the society to raise government spending, if that’s what they want, then they should vote in favor of this,” he said. “If not, they should vote no.”

Opponents also say the proposal would lead to higher prices as well as add to the records-keeping burdens of sellers.

Colligan disagrees, and said other sales taxes already are the norm in Wasilla and Palmer.

Supporters include the Alaska Academy of Family Physicians and the Mat-Su Health Foundation.

The foundation’s executive director, Elizabeth Ripley, said alcohol and substance abuse emerged as the number one issue in a community-based health indicator survey.

“So we have this mandate from our community,” she said. “Our business community, our medical community, our youth, our education community all ranked alcohol and substance abuse as the number one issue in Mat-Su.”

State taxes on alcohol have reduced alcohol-related mortality rates, according to Ripley. She said studies show that alcohol taxes have reduced the frequency and probability of child abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

In Tuesday’s election, Mat-Su voters also will vote on a transportation initiative and two assembly seats.

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