Utah hiked its liquor prices by 2 percent last year, a move that will generate an additional $4 million for the state in 2018.
The money will be used to teach alcohol prevention to public school children — but it could come at the expense of another program, this one aimed at their parents.
On Tuesday, lawmakers said it may be time to cut Parents Empowered, the alcohol education program for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC).
Most Utahns likely have seen the group’s television commercials and billboards and heard the radio spots that encourage mothers and fathers to take a more active role in preventing underage drinking.
Lawmakers created the program in 2012, requiring that 0.6 percent of all liquor sales go to fund the program. Since its inception, the Parents Empowered annual budget has steadily grown from $1.7 million to more than $2.3 million.
But the 2018 legislature wants to make cuts to agencies statewide, and members of the Business, Economic Development and Labor Appropriations Subcommittee said doing away with Parents Empowered would be the least harmful way to reduce the DABC budget.
“If we eliminate the program, it doesn’t hurt the department operations,” committee co-chair, Rep. R. Curt Webb, R-Providence, said.
Sal Petilos, DABC executive director, opposed the idea, saying that while the state has low rates of underage drinking when compared to the rest of the nation, Utah “should do what it can to make sure it remains there.”
Several committee members said they wanted more information before making a final decision.
“Before we talk about continuing or discontinuing, we should determine the effectiveness of the program,” said Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-Salt Lake.
The committee did not discuss the details of the new school-age prevention, which will be funded by the increase in markups on liquor as of July 1. The markups on liquor jumped from 86 percent to 88 percent; and 64.5 percent to 66.5 percent on heavy beer.
As part of the DABC budget discussion, lawmakers also heard how much money the state liquor sales bring into the state.
Between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, Utah brought in a record $427.6 million in gross liquor sales. After the state covers the liquor costs, here’s how the profits are spent:
• $106 million goes to the general fund, the third largest source or revenue for the state, said Andrea Wilco, a legislative fiscal analyst
• The DABC keeps about $46.7 million, or about 11 percent, to cover operating costs.
• $42.7 million goes to Utah’s school lunch program.
• $4.2 million is directed ot the State Bureau of Investigation for liquor-law enforcement efforts.
• $2.3 million for Parents Empowered.
• The DABC also collected about $23 million in sales taxes, which are distributed between cities and counties.