Despite my assertions in an earlier column that Oregon needed the money that would have been raised by a 1,900 percent increase in the beer tax per barrel, the legislature has dropped the ball and given up on this landmark legislation. But why? That is the question.
1. The legislature passed tax increases on corporations, rich individuals, gas, hospitals and more already and those may just be enough for the “tax-weary” Democrats who are afraid of voter backlash.
2. Beer was found not to be as harmful as originally suspected. One reason for the proposed tax increase was to fund state programs for alcoholics. Either beer does not contribute as much to alcoholism as other “beverages of Beelzebub”, or the legislature doesn’t really care that much about alcoholics in the state.
3. Legislators have decided to ignore the estimated 4 billion dollar cost to the state that alcoholism causes. I am not sure how they can ignore this, but without the valuable programs the state has in place to treat disadvantaged alcoholics, alcoholism will continue to grow unabated. Additionally, with beer remaining cheap due to their failure to impose the new tax, more and more disadvantaged Oregonians will choose craft beer or beer by the barrel as their “getting high” vehicle of choice. Craft and barrel beer has been shown to be a gateway drug, too, and the low cost beer that will continue to be available will now lead to more and more ruined lives.
4. The Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association must have more power than originally suspected. Typically, when dealing with sin taxes, the legislature remains “above the fray” and does the right thing for the health and well-being of Oregonians rather than succumb to pressures brought by lobbyists. The legislature failed to stand up to this powerful and well-funded lobby. Who will strong-arm them the next time we need a new tax?
5. Democrats did not want to increase the tax burden on “working class” peoples, as studies have shown it is they who most often drink beer “on tap”.
6. Legislators were worried that voters would get a chance to vote on this proposal via ballot measure and did not want to engage in that fight, which they most likely would have lost. Fear causes many to simply give up on what is right and run for the closet to hide.
The only good news in this major defeat for all Oregonians, who will now be saddled with underfunded alcoholic treatment programs, is that the sponsors of this bill (state Sen. Floyd Prozanksi, for example) have boldly declared that it will be at the top of their agenda in 2010.