Why is beer tax off the table?

$1.5 million in PAC contributions may have something to do with it

As published in the Lansing State Journal, 12/17/2009

By Rich Robinson

Nearly any serious observer of Michigan’s budget process would tell you our state’s tax codes are an anachronistic mess. Our income tax, sales tax and business tax are ill-suited for a 21st century economy and need to be revised.

Michigan’s beer tax belongs at the very top of this list of taxes to be updated. The beer tax, which was last increased in 1962 to 46 cents per case, is wholly inadequate for the purpose it should serve.

Beer is not just another food group. It is the most heavily promoted recreational drug in the history of humankind, and there are profound clean-up expenses after the party.

The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse reported earlier this year that the states generally spend nine dollars for every dollar they collect in alcohol taxes: For everything from health care costs related to obesity, diabetes, STDs, addiction and car crashes; to social service costs for domestic violence, failure in education and child protective services; to criminal justice costs for police, courts and incarceration. There is a world of social wreckage in the wake of alcohol abuse.

Michigan’s beer tax hasn’t kept pace with the escalating costs of the clean-up. When my dad bought a six-pack of Bosch in 1962, the beer tax amounted to 12 percent. Today when I buy a six-pack of my favorite craft brew, the beer tax is barely one percent. Fellow beer drinkers, we’re just not pulling our fair share of the load.

So, why is it that when the governor proposed a bump to the beer tax during budget season, legislative leaders took about five minutes to declare the idea “off the table?”

It might have something to do with the $1.5 million the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers political action committee has handed out over the years to the members of the 95th Legislature and the various PACs that they control. It might have something to do with the fact that scores of legislators’ fundraisers have been hosted by the Beer and Wine Wholesalers. Take a look at http://www.mcfn.org to see what your legislators have raked in.

Whatever the reasons, this is no time to wink and turn a blind eye to the legal recreational drug industry. We’ve got schools in decline, we’re shortchanging higher education – the engine of our economic future, and we’re spread way too thin in environmental protection, just to name a few floundering priorities.

The beer industry likes to say consumers will drive to another state if we raise beer taxes. That might work for a handful of people in Menominee, but mostly it’s a bogus argument.

We need to see enough political courage in Lansing to add a few pennies to the cost of that four or five-dollar pint of beer, so clean-up costs for alcohol problems are paid by alcohol users.

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