Marin Institue Wagging Their Finger At Brewers Again

The Marin Institute is at it again. Today, they published a shiny color-coded map showing how — and I love this bit of doublespeak — “State Governments Neglect Beer Taxes.” The press release goes on to suggest that “inflation has decreased the value of low beer taxes, while state budget shortfalls have exploded.” Of course, that argument can be made for every single tax in existence, from sales tax to income tax yet they’re not crying about those not being raised. Everything is effected by inflation, yet it’s alcohol taxes that must bear the burden for that. And I’ve said it before, and I guess I have to keep saying it, but trying to make alcohol pay for the state’s shortfalls is not in the least bit fair. Alcohol companies didn’t cause the problems we’re all experiencing, yet these neo-prohibitionists keep insisting they must disproportionally pay to fix them. Whatever fixes are imposed should be paid by everyone, not just the convenient target of an extremist anti-alcohol organization.

This neglect, they claim, has “[l]egislators ignoring a lot of revenue their states could use right now.” They neglect, naturally, to factor in all of the direct and indirect positive economic contributions that the alcohol industry makes to our economy, one of the few industries growing and providing jobs. Instead, they suggest punishing and harming the alcohol industry to, and here’s a telling quote, “prevent future losses.” That presupposes that these taxes are somehow ordained from on high, sacrosanct and absolutely necessary. But are they? Not in the least. The taxes they’re referring to are excise taxes, taxes no other industry except tobacco has to pay. Alcohol companies already pay more taxes than any other goods manufacturing industry in the country. The notion that they have to be adjusted for inflation is something these yahoos just made up because they don’t like alcohol. The maps are very colorful and utterly useless.

Ooh, look at the pretty colors.

These excise taxes are patently unfair and always have been since they were first imposed during the Civil War to raise money for the Northern Army. That they’re taken for granted and most people believe there’s a good reason for them has more to do with anti-alcohol propaganda and decades of ceaseless attacks painting alcohol as a sin. Today’s reason du jour for the continued excise taxes is usually stated as alcohol is somehow duty-bound to pay for any harm caused by people abusing the products they make and sell. This argument, of course, doesn’t stand up to the simplest logic. Not everybody abuses alcohol, of course, and the percentage that do so are in a very small minority of the total number of people who regularly drink.

Still, this notion persists that the industry must pay for a small percentage of alcohol abusers. But if it’s about the harm, then why aren’t soda and fast food manufacturers taxed similarly for the burden they place on our healthcare system. People over-eating surely has made many people unhealthy and their medical bills far higher than people who eat a healthier diet. Why don’t they have to pay for the harm they cause? Why don’t pharmaceutical companies get taxed for the harm caused by people who abuse their prescription drugs? Why don’t gun and bullet makers have to pay for the violence caused by their products? I could go on and on. Almost everything causes harm if abused, but only alcohol has to pay for it, apparently.

What’s most pernicious about these recent attacks by anti-alcohol groups is that they’re simply seizing an opportunity caused by the economic downturn to advance an agenda that has little to do with what caused our economic woes. They’re essentially just stoking people’s fears to further their own agenda of removing alcohol from society by taxing it to death and figuring people will go along with it if they step up their lying to them about it at a time when we’re all worried about the future. It’s quite frankly, disgraceful.

In other recent news, the California state legislature did not approve Jim Beall’s latest attempt to punish alcohol with his nickel-a-drink tax that’s come up several times before and will continue to be brought up until the people of San Jose finally get smart enough to vote him out of office. Jim Beall is like a rabid dog that just won’t quit nipping at alcohol’s heels.

The Marin Institute’s chief flack, Bruce Lee Livingston quipped after its most recent defeat. “How in good conscience … can these public servants vote no or even worse abstain on this bill? It’s a travesty; whose interests are they representing?” Well, listen up, I’ll tell you. A nickel-a-drink sounds like a modest proposal, but it’s not. It would greatly raise the price of alcohol, especially beer, and even though I know that’s your real goal, it harms a healthy segment of the economy at a time when there are fewer and fewer healthy segments left. Legislators understand that. You do not, because you don’t care about the economy if it means alcohol continues to prosper. You only care about causing the alcohol industry harm. So it helps the interests of business, something pretty important if raising money is the goal so everyone in California can prosper. To you, it seems like a fine time to attack alcohol, but to people who really do care about the state’s economy, not so much. You also keep going on about big beer, but this harms 200 small breweries, many of which are Mom & Pop businesses just trying to make a living and feed their families, not giant behemoths.

Voting against it also helps the interests of the poor, who buy a lot of the beer, especially when Beall’s bill exempts 79% of wineries. The fee (or tax) is regressive, meaning it falls disproportionally on the poorest Californians. The bill also funds healthcare facilities to treat alcohol and drug abuse. Drugs, you may not realize, are not made in breweries, so asking alcohol companies to pay for pharmaceutical abuse is not exactly fair. In addition, the $700 million (still only 3.5% of the state deficit) you claim will help the budget won’t do any such thing if all or a portion is being used for these treatment facilities. Those are in addition to balancing the budget.

Sadly, the bill, “AB 1694 will be re-considered in the Assembly Health Committee on April 6.” And so it goes ….


  1. says

    Ha ha, you’re right, those maps are completely useless. As an example, they color Mississippi very darkly for its 86% “erosion” of tax revenue, while Illinois glows bright yellow for raising taxes last year. Yet Mississippi’s tax is twice that of Illinois! Pointless statistics.

    Taxes are one of the two things in life that are certain. If society wants to tax alcohol, so be it. But production-side excise taxes are pretty pernicious, especially in three-tiered distribution systems like most of us seem to have. Would be nice to convert these to sales taxes, at whatever rate each community wants.


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