By Zachary West
The Utah Legislature”s decision to increase wholesale beer tax last week has beer sellers concerned that they are continuing to be taxed unfairly.
Last week, the Utah State Senate passed a pair of bills to modify laws governing alcoholic beverage sales and increased the tax on wholesale beer. Legislators passed the bill hoping to use the revenue from increased license fees to combat over consumption and underage drinking.
Currently, a barrel of beer costs bars about $11. On May 1, the total price will be $12.80. Those who purchase beer by the can will see a four-cent increase per six-pack. The Senate originally wanted to raise the tax $3 to $14-per-barrel. Because legislators took the lower price, they pushed the law forward to be effective May 1 instead of July 1. Lawmakers plan to funnel the taxation revenue toward law enforcement and the 2003-04 general fund.
Sen. Majority Leader Michael Waddoups, R-Salt Lake, said the reason for the tax increase is the decrease in funds given to local cities and counties for DUI enforcement. The last time money was allocated to cities and counties was 1983 for DUI enforcement. The amount for cities and counties was set at $4.325 million.
“As the collections increased over the years, the locals” portion didn”t,” he said. “In 1995, the state took part of the $4.325 million for the general fund. It dropped a million here and a million there, until it was half that amount.”
Waddoups said last year, in balancing the budget, the state took all of the funds and left no money for the cities and counties to battle DUI.
“I tried very hard to get the lost money restored to them, and I couldn”t do it,” he said. “My colleagues said they needed the money, so I introduced a bill because I believe strongly in DUI enforcement. That”s why I ran the bill; it passed.”
Jose Miranda, assistant manager for the Durango Bar in Salt Lake City, said he is not bothered by the increase because the bar will keep its business open whether legislators continue to raise taxes.
“We”ll just have to sell more beer,” he said. “Ultimately, the customers will pay for the tax increase anyway.”
Other bar owners think legislators increase alcoholic beverage taxes because the beer and alcoholic beverage industries are easy targets.
Bob Brown, owner of the bar Cheers to You in Salt Lake, said the tax will not affect him, but that he is tired of legislators choosing to tax alcohol in Utah rather than other commodities.
“We”re one of the highest taxed states in the country,” he said. “Utah”s tax is four times the national average. That”s a ridiculous amount of tax.”
In response to the bar owners” comments, Waddoups said he is more concerned about keeping people safe and battling DUI than who is sinning and who is not.
“I think it is a tragedy if one person is killed by a drunk driver,” he said. “I think we need more police officers, educational programs and treatment to battle DUI in Utah. My kids are worth more than a four-cent per six pack tax increase, and so are everyone else”s.”