Thursday, April 8, 2010

Say yes to a permanent beer tax increase

A message to Democratic budget leadership: Say yes to a permanent beer tax increase

I was once a lobbyist for chemical dependency treatment programs. The first day I was in Olympia, one of the lobbyists for the big brewers shoved his card in my hand and made every effort to intimidate me. I can only guess how the combined pressure feels to you.

Nevertheless, I would ask you to consider the beer tax on its merits, which are many. I am in favor of raising the beer tax because its value has decreased 25% in Wa State since it was last increased in 1997. While it is true that some beer will be brought from Oregon to WA, the data I found showed 86% as many sales from WA going into Canada, so that point was pretty much canceled out.

There is strong public support for a beer tax if it is spent on prevention and treatment. This should be taken into account, especially since the final budget cut drug treatment across the board by 3% (if this is still true). Requiring people on GAU disability to go to treatment will require more treatment slots, and outpatient slots won't do much good if these people are jobless and homeless. They need inpatient treatment for 60 to 90 days. By extension, dedicating some of the tax to GAU disability medical coupons would make a good nexus.

Increasing the cost of beer will cause a decrease in teenage drinking, since beer is the favorite beverage of underage drinkers and they are more affected by cost increases than the general public is. Increasing the cost of beer has the documented effect of lowering rapes, STDs and teen pregnancies, by about 2%. Over 90% of domestic violence cases involve drunken behavior, according to police. Again, beer is most often involved and raising the price will marginally decrease this behavior. Beer is the beverage of choice of most alcoholics, so, while increasing the price will not stop their drinking, it will cause them to drink marginally less, causing less physical harm to themselves.

The federal beer tax has been increased only once since 1951. It would have to increase about 350% to reflect the cost of inflation since then. Beer is effectively much cheaper than it was in the '50s. It is also making us fatter.

There is no relation between the amount of beer tax and the amount of beer drinking. Wisconsin has among the highest rates of beer consumption and the lowest beer tax. The amount of beer consumption is mainly cultural. Tourist towns such as NYC and New Orleans have among the lowest rates.

Many of these facts are documented on a site called Beer Soaks America.

Please do not make this tax temporary. We have a deficit in the next biennium and a structural deficit thereafter, with obligations to fund pensions and education. We can take this one to the bank and work on closing tax loopholes and other good policy initiatives.

King County Democrats and Washington State Democrats voted in January to oppose regressive taxes and to support revenue increases, particularly non-performing tax exemptions, as opposed to more cuts.

Sarajane Siegfriedt, co-chair
King County Democrats Legislative Action Committee

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