Alaskans drank more despite higher alcohol tax, drink prices
When the Alaska Legislature approved the biggest alcohol tax increase in state history, many hoped the added cost would convince Alaskans to drink less. That was 11 years ago. Sure enough, bars and liquor stores across the state raised prices to pay the new tax — often boosting them at least twice as much as necessary on popular brands, university researchers later discovered. Then a funny thing happened, according to state tax records. Instead of cutting back because of the extra cost, Alaskans kept right on drinking. The tax on hard liquor doubled, yet sales of whiskey, vodka and other spirits have grown 41 percent since the increase. (Alaska’s population, rose just 13 percent during the period.) The tax on wine tripled, yet wine sales have gone up 56 percent. Only beer receipts dipped slightly in the face of the 2002 “dime a drink” tax championed in Juneau by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was then a state House member from Anchorage.
Before the increase, the state collected the equivalent of 3 to 4 cents for every bottle of beer, glass of wine or shot of liquor sold in Alaska. The new rate raised the tax to 10 cents per drink. Today, a review of the unprecedented increase reveals it failed to fully deliver on the hopes of supporters in important ways. In a state that continues to wrestle with alcohol-fueled crime, abuse and neglect and fetal alcohol syndrome rates are the highest in America, treatment providers report a chronic lack of facilities to help people get sober. That was also the case in 2002, when Murkowski told her fellow lawmakers that on any given day there were 300 Alaskans waiting to get into treatment and recovery programs statewide.When they passed the 2002 tax, legislators planned to spend at least half of the alcohol money on substance abuse rehabilitation and prevention. Instead, state spending on alcohol and drug programs plummeted the year after the increased rates took hold.
Over the next six years, the state made more money on alcohol taxes than the Division of Behavioral Health spent from state coffers on drug and alcohol programs. Treatment funding began to rebound by 2009, but the governor and health commissioner have resisted efforts to spend significantly more of the alcohol tax on treatment without evidence that existing programs are working.
At Seabrook, we are committed to providing quality addiction treatment for the physical, emotional and spiritual illness of chemical dependency. Our structured, nurturing programs, along with the principles grounded in the Twelve Step philosophy of recovery, combine to foster the kind of changes necessary for a clean and sober life.