A California state legislator, Jim Beall, Jr. of San Jose, is proposing a bill that will raise the taxes on beer a staggering $1.80 per six-pack or 30-cents a bottle, which amounts to over a 1400% increase! In addition, the tax on draft beer would be an additional $90 per keg, almost doubling their cost. Yeah, that sounds reasonable. This is his first term in the state assembly so perhaps he’s trying to make a name for himself. Any bill of this type needs a two-thirds majority to pass (doubtful at best) and then also, “because it’s a constitutional amendment, it would have to be approved by voters.” I’d be surprised to see voters agree to have the price of beer raised by that much. But even so, it’s worth looking at the propaganda behind Beall’s rationale, as it seems to come directly from the neo-prohibtionist playbook.
Mike Fox Sr., from the San Jose beer distributor M.E. Fox, said “Beall’s heart is in the right place” because he’s “dedicated in areas of health.” That’s far more credit than I’m willing to give him. As Dan Gordon puts it, far more realistically, “[w]e would all be looking for jobs.” Beall is trying to raise money for our beleaguered state which has had serious budget problems for several years, but he’s forgetting that putting the beer industry out of business isn’t going to do the state any favors economically. The California brewing industry in 2007 directly contributed $10,952,775,208 to our economy and another $8,136,322,492 by suppliers plus $5,557,441,516 in induced impact. That’s a total of $24,646,539,216 that beer contributes to our state economy. You can see the breakdowns of these figures at Beer Serves America.
Before I get into the apparent reasons he’s proposing this nonsense, I want to point out that he’s not seeking to raise the tax on wine or spirits, just beer. So it’s hard to swallow his rationale when he says the following, which are taken from a report by NBC Channel 11, in the Bay Area, and also in the Contra Costa Times.
“The fallout from alcohol consumption costs Californians nearly $36 billion a year in increased health costs, crime, lost productivity and injuries from accidents and abuse,” Beall said. “It’s time for the beer industry to help us with the staggering burden it has helped to create.”
Even if I assume that “alcohol consumption” has created this budget problem (and not our politicians who mismanaged it), beer is not all alcohol and should not be the only one punished. And even if I assume beer is culpable, not all beer drinkers are. Most are responsible drinkers who drink in moderation. Why should everyone be punished with higher prices because a few people can’t handle addiction or other associated problems. Those problems may be real, but why should I pay for someone who can’t be responsible if I can manage to be? Punish the people who actually do cause the problem, don’t use a shotgun approach and punish the responsible and irresponsible alike. If we had universal health care like the rest of the civilized world, this wouldn’t even be an issue.
“Beer is the alcohol of choice for under-age drinkers,” Beall said. “Research tells us that kids who begin drinking before they are 15 are more prone to become alcoholics. They are also more susceptible to alcohol-related problems such as vehicle accidents and assaults later in life than people who wait until they are 21 or older to take their first drink.”
It’s the choice of underage drinkers because it’s more available. Beer outsells other alcoholic beverages by at least four to one, in some cases more than that. So it’s more an issue of what’s around more than anything else. Plus, when I was a kid many of my friend’s parents kept their more expensive booze locked up in a liquor cabinet making it much harder to get at, whereas beer was in the refrigerator. I doubt things have changed all that much, suggesting one more reason that beer is easier to find. Then there’s our refusal to educate our youth about alcohol, including the insulting fact that in many places parents are even forbidden to teach their own children about alcohol.
Beall also likens the beer tax to that of cigarettes, which is fairly high, saying. “The people who use alcohol should pay for part of the cost to society, just like we’ve accepted that concept with tobacco.” But not everyone who drinks costs society anything. In fact, the majority of people are moderate drinkers who do so responsibly. Problem drinkers who may exact a cost to society are a small minority of all drinkers. Beyond that, tobacco itself is a danger to a smoker’s health and to those he or she smokes around, it has been proven scientifically to be an unhealthy product. Beer, by contrast, has been shown to have many health benefits and the vast majority of beer drinkers therefore receive health benefits from their moderate alcohol consumption.
Beall said the money would “force those responsible for the problem to pay for it.”
This statement really galls me. I’m not responsible for the problem. Virtually everyone I know, whether in the beer industry or not, isn’t responsible for the problem. I’m no more responsible for another person’s inability to show restraint than a teetotaler. So why should I and all the other responsible drinkers be “forced to pay for it” as Beall so cavalierly says.
Beall claimed the tax could make beer harder for teens to obtain because of higher prices.
Beall’s office cited a National Academy of Science study on under-age drinking that recommended a raise in taxes on beer to curb consumption by teen-agers who, as a group, are highly price-conscious.
Bullshit. I, and every other adult, should have to pay more for beer because law enforcement can’t stop underage drinking? How is that in any way fair? Everyone should pay higher prices on the off chance that minors can’t afford it? That is so far off the deep end of reasonable logic that it’s stunning. I’m price conscious, too, but I guess I don’t count in Beall’s world view.
If he really cared about underage health, or about everyone paying their “fair share” of any damage they cause, then why isn’t he trying to tax McDonald’s, Burger King and the other fast food joints? Why isn’t he trying to raise the tax on Big Macs and Whoppers? They’re making our youth obese and unhealthy, exacting a terrible cost now and in a future where as obese adults, they’ll continue to be a burden on our dysfunctional healthcare system. I could go on and on like this. Soda is unhealthy for kids and adults alike, but schools put soda machines in cafeterias, hallways and even classrooms.
Beer corporations continue to rake in profits. The United States’ largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch, reported a net income of $2.1 billion in 2007, nearly 8 percent above the previous year; Molson Coors reported $507 million in revenue after taxes.
He’s talking here about three, maybe four corporations, only two of which actually brew beer in California. That leaves over 1400 breweries nationwide that are most definitely NOT raking in big profits. But apparently he’s willing to wage war against over 1400 small and medium-size businesses in order to impact three he doesn’t like.
Not to mention that this couldn’t come at a worse time for the brewing industry, when there is a shortage of key ingredients, notably hops and barley, and prices have skyrocketed over the last year. Most breweries already raised their prices around January, some of them significantly. But I’m willing to bet Beall already knows that. Kicking someone when they’re down, that’s a bully’s trick in my opinion.
He never says so, but all of Beall’s tortured arguments smack of anti-alcohol propaganda. Whether he’s somehow tied to the neo-prohibitionists, or merely been influenced by their rhetoric, is unclear. The biography on his campaign website offers no clues beyond his interest in the health care system. To me, all he’s done is show how unreasonable the self-righteous can be. He must really hate beer and the people who make, distribute and sell it, because how else to explain his proposal to put an entire industry out of business.