Bill watered down until beer tax hike disappears
By Lee Davidson
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Feb 04 2014 03:36PM
Last year, Rep. Jack Draxler tried to raise taxes on beer, wine and spirits by 4.62 percent. When that failed, he tried to make beer taxes rise automatically with inflation. Now, he’s abandoned that and is just trying to require more of the beer tax to be spent on drinking-abuse prevention programs.
"I’ve distilled it down," Draxler, R-North Logan, joked Tuesday about his efforts. "Through the process of a year, the message came through loud and clear that the Legislature is not interested in a tax increase."
The watered-down product of his efforts, HB40, passed 11-4 in the House Business and Labor Committee and now goes to the full House.
It requires cities and counties — which receive 40 percent of the state’s beer tax — to spend 10 percent of it on prevention programs, or an equivalent from other funding resources. Currently, they spend just under 4 percent of the tax on such programs.
Draxler said previously that his proposed tax increases were aimed more at reducing underage and binge drinking than on raising revenue. But beer sellers contended it would have little affect on such groups, and could send more people out of state to buy alcohol. Fiscal analysts even figured his original proposed tax increase would end up costing the state money because of lost overall revenue.
Draxler said the change he proposes now could redirect $200,000 to $300,000 statewide for more prevention programs. "It’s not a lot of money," he said. "But it’s a little bit of a boost, a little reemphasis to say, ‘Let’s try to prevent some things before they happen.’"
But he ran into some opposition. Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, said it would micromanage cities and counties, and force them perhaps to take money away from alcohol enforcement, prosecution or confinement — the other areas on which they may spend beer tax revenue.
Draxler said cities and law enforcement groups support his bill.