Leaders of the state House are working behind the scenes on a possible alcohol tax increase.
House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Kott said House Speaker Brian Porter asked him to talk with alcohol industry representatives and groups supporting a tax to come up with an acceptable proposal. If the industry doesn't go along with the idea, a tax may pass anyway, said Kott, an Eagle River Republican.
"I would caution them if they don't move, they may get a bigger part of the enchilada than they wanted," Kott said. "I believe there's enough support on the House side to pass some kind of alcohol tax."
Kott said he probably would vote against a tax himself, but many of his colleagues support it.
Public outrage over several high-profile drunken driving accidents last year and the cost of legislation intended to address the problem of repeat drunken drivers is helping drive the push to increase alcohol taxes, Kott said.
Rep. Norm Rokeberg, an Anchorage Republican, is working on an anti-drunken driving package that stiffens penalties and calls for a pilot therapeutic courts program for some offenders. He estimates the package could cost $10 million.
Prospects of a voter initiative to raise alcohol taxes also play a role in the current interest, Kott said.
A group of voters was gathering signatures to put a measure on the ballot raising alcohol taxes when a court last year ruled the language on the measure was misleading. Matt Felix, one of the sponsors of that initiative, said the group would rework the language and try again if the Legislature doesn't act.
Bob Bailey, operations manager for Alaska Distributors, said the alcohol industry hasn't taken a position at this point.
"I guess it's safe to say there are several industry members who would be willing to consider a reasonable increase," Bailey said. "What that is at this moment, I'm not sure."
Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, an Anchorage Republican, said an alcohol tax increase might pass in the Senate.
"In my opinion it comes down to how much that increase will be," Leman said. "If it's a really large increase, then it probably won't pass, but if it's what I think most people would view as a reasonable increase, I'd say there's a very good chance that could pass."
Sen. Dave Donley, an Anchorage Republican, said he's voted against almost all taxes, but this is one he's willing to consider depending on the specifics of the proposal and the public testimony. Donley is co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, but said he was speaking only for himself.