Being Smart on Crime
October 19, 2017
Dear Neighbor, 

A few weeks ago, Senator Coghill published a piece in the ADN describing a sensible and rational approach toward addressing the deficits in SB-91, last session's crime bill. His bill fixing those problems - this year’s SB-54 - is part of the special session call and was a bill that the Senate passed earlier this year 19-1. I agree with him, and I think we must take this moment to tackle crime the right way. 

SB-91 came out of a desire by the State to be smart on crime, not just tough on crime. We spend $105,000 per year on each inmate we incarcerate. The aim of SB-91 was to look at proven ways to reduce crime and our prison population. Looking at data and following a model successfully implemented in Texas , our legislature saw that even a small investment up front in programs designed to reduce criminal activity, address addiction, and reintegrate prisoners back into society can pay off with increases in safety and reductions in cost (Texas has so far saved over $33 million in prison operating costs since their version of SB-91 passed in 2007, and crime has gone down a remarkable 26%).

Crime in Anchorage had been declining since the late 1980s. In 2011, as a result of many factors including the explosion of the opioid epidemic, the recession, and dramatic cuts to state and city budgets, crime began to spike. Since then, the crime rate has gone up including a spike in the violent crime rate in 2015. Because only parts of the reforms passed in SB-91 have gone into effect - mostly in this year - it is impossible to tie that bill exclusively to our increase in crime. The plan to re-invest money saved by reducing the prison population into programs proven to reduce crime hasn't even begun yet. 

With a law of this size and scope, there were certain to be unintended consequences and fixes needed. I am in complete agreement with the Anchorage Assembly who passed a resolution urging reforms , but not a repeal of SB-91. I was proud to be part of passing SB-54, which contained many of those fixes. I hope that the House will swiftly pass it when we go down to Juneau on October 23rd for the next special session.

The elements of SB-91 and SB-54 are only part of the solution to our crime woes: we also need a comprehensive fiscal plan to ensure we do not make more of the deep cuts to public safety that helped get us to this point in the first place. The Governor has put on the table a flat wage tax of 1.5% which would generate about $300 million by 2020. There are some things I like about the proposal, including that it captures income from non-resident workers who use our infrastructure but don't contribute. The wage tax is also capped at twice the value of the PFD. While I understand the Governor's desire to make sure the tax burden is not overly stifling to the economy, this cap means those earning more than $150,000 a year will pay a smaller percent of their income than low and middle-class Alaskans. That said, this is a starting point. 

´╗┐Please let me know your thoughts we begin the 4th special session. 
All my best,
Senator Tom Begich 
Senate District J
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Come join us tomorrow for a Downtown clean-up and make Anchorage a safer and more welcoming city!
Anchorage Heritage Land Bank and Downtown Community Council invite you to join them in cleaning up the old Native Medical Center this Friday from 3:00 to 5:00pm. 
Volunteers will meet at 3rd Avenue and Gambell Street.
´╗┐All participants will be required to sign a waiver, wear rubber gloves, and a reflective vest. These items and free coffee will be provided!
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