I don't suspect that Rep. Terese Berceau's proposal to raise the beer tax in Wisconsin will ever make it to the floor of the Legislature, let alone be signed into law by Gov. Doyle (who has stated his opposition to it already).
Still, her proposal to increase the tax on a barrel from $2 to $10 - but only for beers made in Wisconsin - raises some interesting questions and has prompted an overdue debate.
At first blush, it would be easy to think, "Oh the beer industry makes tons of cash, and their taxes haven't been raised in decades, so this shouldn't be a problem." Plus, part of Berceau's proposal is that the increased revenue that would presumably result from such a change would go toward funding enforcement of drunk driving laws. So what's not to like?
I'm 100% behind efforts to curb the number of people who get behind the wheel wasted or even tipsy. I just don't think this particular bill is the way to do it - nor do I think it's entirely honest to say that this is what it's really all about.
As I already mentioned, the tax would only apply to in-state breweries: ie, micro and craft brewers. Big conglomerates like Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors would get off scot-free, even though they're the companies most able to absorb an additional cost such as this. Meanwhile, smaller, local breweries would pay the price.
Chris Staples, one of the owners of Madison-area brewery Furthermore Beer, recently wrote a thoughtful piece about his opposition to the proposed tax bill. It was the first thing I'd read that made me really sit up and take notice of the issue, and to rethink my initial position on it. Staples makes it clear that he's not against paying their fair share, just that Berceau's particular bill is the wrong way to go about things. You can read the whole thing here.
Wisconsin definitely suffers from a schizophrenic relationship with alcohol. We have a long and storied history of producing some of the best beer, but we have an equally lengthy record of abusing the fruits of our labors. Better enforcement of drinking related laws is important. Greater focus on treatment and prevention is even more crucial. But we also need to make sure our politicians, for all their apparently noble gestures toward the aforementioned goals, are really working toward what's best for Wisconsinites...and not the big corporations with the least investment in our communities.
(photo by Chris_J on Flickr)