For better or for worse,beer is widely regarded as a staple of college students‘ diets,so any move to dramatically increase the price of the beverage would likelyimpact many on campus.
If State Representative Jim Beall has his way,students may choose to moderate their intake of beer.Earlier this month,the first-term Democratic lawmaker from San Jose announced that hewould propose legislation to increase the excise tax on beerto as much as30cents per gallon – a rate that would raise the price of a six-pack of beer by$1.80.
The excise tax is levied against manufacturers,who can choose to pass the cost on to consumers.Currently,the rate is20cents per gallon.
“Most of the health costs [of alcohol use] are borne by the general public,” Beall said in a telephone interview. “This increase would shift some of that cost to people that actually drink.“
Beall added that the since the tax hasn’t been raised since1991,the rate has actually declined in that time period,accounting for inflation.
A two-thirds majority approval from the state Legislature is required before the measure passes onin the form of a referendumtoCalifornia voters who must approve it.
“Sin taxes” are not uncommon measuresenacted by states dealing with budgetary problems,according to professor emeritus of political science Edmond Costantini.
“These taxes strike me as logically belonging on the table,” Costantini said. “They are prudent given our state’s economic circumstances and revenue shortfalls and tend to be the easiest ones to impose.“
Depending on the size of the increase,the law could generate up to$1billion in additional money,Beall said.
However,Beall’s proposal would not generate any money to help combat the state’s budgetary woes.The money would be put in a trust fund to help finance health and law enforcement services that deal with effects associated with alcohol abuse.
These include emergency room programs that deal with injuries stemming from DUIs,counseling programs to help combat underage drinking,and mental health services to help treat alcoholism.All these programs would have the ultimate goal of reducing the number of people addicted to the substance.
“[Alcoholism] is a medical problem with a huge criminal justice and social cost,” he said,noting this law would hold those responsible for the problem to pay for it.
In support of the law,Beall offered several statistics illuminating the dangers of alcohol.
Every year,Approximately1,500people die due to DUI crashes inCalifornia.Nearly half of all sexual assaults in the countryinvolve alcohol.And finally,the fallout from alcohol consumption costs state taxpayers about$36billion a year in increased health costs,lost productivity,and other factors.
While the likelihood of the measure passing both chambers of the legislature is minimal,those affected by the proposal are speaking out.
Michael Costello is currently the owner of Brew-It-Up Brewery and Grill located inSacramento.The restaurant had its start inDavis in1996,before moving to the state capital in late2003.
Costello said he was not a fan of the proposed increase.
“If there’s any way to slow down the economy and slow down commerce,it’s putting an increase on a consumable item that is consumed by just about everybody in society,” he said. “While it would raise a tremendous amount of money,everyone’s pocketbook would be affected.“
In particular,Costello said that singling out the beer industry is unfair,considering that the same increases are not being proposed for both wine and liquor.
Economically,Costello said the tax would hit people who could least afford it and also put many out of work,especially at local breweries.
“This is a punitive tax on an individual item in society that punishes people in society that are doing this behavior,” he said. “People will still buy alcohol,but simply another alcohol.“
In terms of having those who abuse alcohol pay for the costs,Costello compared the situation to “chasing a fly with a sledgehammer,” as the law would damage manyeconomic fibers within society.
Beall said he was willing to listen to local breweries,but noted that without a tax hike since1991,it was time for the “[breweries] to pay their fair share.“
The chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Alcohol and Substance Abuse,Beall said he has authored several other bills that have already been introduced relating to the subject,including a measure dealing with prenatal screening for mothers using alcohol.
“We’ll see what happens,” Beall said,regarding a vote on the beer tax measure,notinga smaller increasewould be palatable tomost parties.
Indeed,there may be a near revolutionary resistance among opponents of such a large hike.
“I think there was a party inBoston a while back where they dumped a lot of tea in the water because of this type of thing,” Costello said.
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