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September 12, 2013 7:37 am

Raising Wyoming beer tax an idea worth toasting

Written by Tom Lawrence

We say cheers to a proposal to raise the state tax on beer.

Now, before you spill your suds in protest, check the facts, Falstaff. Wyoming only charges 2.5 cents per gallon, the lowest such ale assessment in the United States.

By contrast, Tennessee charges $1.17 per gallon, the highest rate in the nation. Alaska charges $1.07 per gallon, Alabama $1.05 and Georgia $1.01, according to the Tax Foundation. Even traditionally low-tax states in the region, like Utah, Colorado and Montana, charge several times what Wyoming does.

State Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, has proposed at least doubling the tax and using the additional revenue to fund substance abuse centers as well as other programs to deal with alcohol abuse. Take a look at the police reports — there is a need, Peterson said, who also points to mental health treatment costs.

“It’s been a long time,” he said Tuesday. “Seventy-five years has been a long wait to change it. It needs to be discussed, it needs to be brought up.”

Alcohol may lubricate conversations, put people at ease on social settings and be used judiciously by many, but there continues to be a great deal of problem drinking in this state, nation and world. When people tip a few too many, some will drive recklessly, engage in foolish, sometimes criminal behavior, and harm themselves and others.

All that costs a lot of money that comes from your tax dollars. By assessing additional taxes on beer, the people who cause the mayhem will, at least in part, by paying for the damage.

That’s just a fact of life, Bud.

A 2006 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report claimed Wyoming lost $468 million a year due to excessive drinking. The cost has surely only gone up in the past seven years.

Of course, beer drinkers already kick in money through other taxes. There’s a federal excise tax of 58 cents per gallon charged to large brewers, which equates to about 33 cents per six-pack. Other taxes are assessed at stores, bars and restaurants, so we’re not saying the people who enjoy a cold one at the end of a long day at work aren’t contributing to the overall good.

But another penny or two seems unlikely to cost anyone a beer, or a bag of peanuts on the side, and collectively, it would do a lot of good. We also would ask state lawmakers to ensure any new tax revenue is funneled directly to alcohol-related efforts and programs, and Peterson said doing that, and also directing liquor tax revenue to that area, is part of his overall goal.

Right now, the state collects just $265,000 a year through the malt beverage excise tax, according to a report in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. The tax hasn’t been raised since 1935, and that alone raises a question — what else has remained the same since the days of nickel beer?

“People say it won’t raise a lot of money, and it won’t,” Peterson said. “The intent is for them to be paying something.”

The state Joint Revenue Interim Committee will discuss raising the tax in Buffalo Friday. We hope they step up to the bar and order a round of common sense — it’s long past time to raise this fee.

It’s never popular for a politician to add to the cost of a six pack for hard-working men and women, at least in popular political theory. But the reality is, there are 72 ounces of beer in that sixer.

Doubling the tax would raise the price of a six-pack of your favorite brew by about one measly penny, perhaps a cent or two more if the committee, and the Legislature, decide to raise the tax even higher. We hope they do.

People leave more than that in the “take a penny, leave a penny” tray. If they dropped a penny on the floor, many, if not most, wouldn’t pick it up.

Raising this tax would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars to help treat people with drinking problems, as well as cash to deal with the other societal costs of alcohol.

Hiking the beer tax has been tried repeatedly. Some proposals over the years have called for far steeper increases than what Sen. Peterson has suggested, and they failed in Cheyenne when the Legislature was pressured by the alcohol industry and its lobbyists, who obviously oppose any increase.

They have had a long winning streak, defeating any and all efforts to hike the malt beverage tax time and time again. Maybe it’s time for a last call on that, and instead let’s take a sober look at a small adjustment in a fee for a very worthy cause.

Peterson, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a non-drinker, so the tax won’t impact him. But he said it’s a good idea for the entire state, and if the committee won’t support his proposal, he will seek a co-sponsor in the House and introduce the bill next session.

“I know it’s long odds,” Peterson said. “It’s a David-and-Goliath situation. But I intend to try.”

5 comments

  • Comment Link September 12, 2013 8:07 am posted by Gene

    Tax tax tax. Now it's raise a tax just because. How about this? Remove the tax!

  • Comment Link September 12, 2013 6:37 pm posted by TN

    I have never seen a tax a phony RINO did not like,yet they moan about tax and spend liberals.

  • Comment Link September 17, 2013 8:22 am posted by Salty Dawg

    The lowest beer tax and yet actual beer prices are not lower.GREED.

  • Comment Link September 18, 2013 6:11 am posted by clipstein

    idiots and anyone who suggest such a thing is????? look at what the fuel tax did for business and you have to ask?? one question when is billings putting up a billboard saying thank you to Park county and Wyoming for all the business???? you want business to survive and then you keep raising city bills, taxes including wanting to raise sales tax... common sense is a thing of the past.

  • Comment Link October 04, 2013 2:58 am posted by SuperSixOne

    Yet another reason to purchase my alcohol in MT

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