Eye On Boise

Beer, wine tax increase introduced

Keith Allred, a former Harvard professor who heads the Idaho good-government group The Common Interest, proposes legislation to raise Idaho's beer and wine taxes to fund substance abuse treatment. The taxes haven't been raised in more than 40 years, and are imposed by volume, not price. The House Revenue & Taxation Committee voted 10-8 to introduce the bill. (Betsy Russell / The Spokesman-Review)
Keith Allred, a former Harvard professor who heads the Idaho good-government group The Common Interest, proposes legislation to raise Idaho's beer and wine taxes to fund substance abuse treatment. The taxes haven't been raised in more than 40 years, and are imposed by volume, not price. The House Revenue & Taxation Committee voted 10-8 to introduce the bill. (Betsy Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

It was a close 10-8 vote, but the House Revenue & Taxation Committee has agreed to introduce legislation that would hike Idaho's beer and wine taxes - which haven't been increased in more than 40 years - more than threefold to provide a stable funding source for substance abuse treatment. Keith Allred, head of The Common Interest, a good-government group, estimated that the higher tax would cost the purchaser of a weekly six-pack about 91 cents more a month. Idaho currently spends about $19 million annually on substance abuse treatment, Allred told the panel. "We're just suggesting that some of that ought to be offset by those who drink alcohol."

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, "To me this is a tax, a tax increase that's selective. This is not the time to be increasing taxes. I don't drink any more, but I'm gonna be driven to drink if we don't straighten up in the Legislature. This is not an illegal business. ... I just think they're paying fair taxes now and I don't see any reason to increase it." Allred said the beer tax, which is imposed per gallon and hasn't risen since 1961, and the wine tax, also on volume and not raised since 1971, would have to go up much more to have the same purchasing power as when they were imposed. He also proposed switching to a percentage tax on price, rather than on volume, so such slippage wouldn't happen again. Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, questioned whether that approach would target buyers of the priciest products to pay for abuse by purchasers of the cheap stuff, but Allred, a former Harvard professor, said it evens out.  The 5 or 10 percent of alcohol drinkers who drink the most account for 70 to 80 percent of the alcohol consumed, he said. "So the beer tax and the wine tax turns out to be borne primarily by those who abuse it."

Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, said just because the tax hasn't been raised in more than 40 years is no reason to raise it, when another state tax, the kilowatt-hour tax, hasn't been raised in 70 years. "Why don't you just go after that instead?" he asked Allred. Allred responded, "The policy purposes ... are quite different." Clark moved to return the bill to sponsor rather than introduce it, but the motion failed, 8-10. The committee then voted 12-6 to introduce the bill and allow full hearings on it. Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, noted that when he co-sponsored a similar bill several years ago, it didn't even get introduced. "There seems to be more support," he said. "I think it needs to be done." Click below to see who voted which way.

How they voted
The first motion, to kill the bill, failed 8-10. Here's the breakdown:
Voting yes: Reps. Barrett, Moyle, Raybould, Roberts, Schaefer, Clark, Harwood and Hart.
Voting no: Reps. Lake, Collins, L. Smith, J. Wood, Bedke, Sayler, Killen, Ruchti, Burgoyne and Rusche.
The second motion, to introduce the bill, passed 12-6:
Voting yes: Reps. Lake, Collins, Raybould, Smith, Wood, Bedke, Harwood, Sayler, Killen, Ruchti, Burgoyne and Rusche.
Voting no: Reps. Barrett, Moyle, Roberts, Schaefer, Clark and Hart.




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