Correction

Friday’s editorial regarding the state’s increases on alcohol taxes was incorrect in two important regards.

The tax increase on wine is based on gallons produced, not bottles. And the overall tax increase on alcohol is based on a brewer’s or vintner’s overall production, not the amount of product distributed within the state of Maine.

Therefore, the editorial was inaccurate in stating the increase would only affect two brewers: Miller and Anheuser-Busch. They companies, as all brewers who produce more than 100,000 barrels annually, are subject to the tax.

Coors and Pabst, two brewers mentioned as exempt from the tax, are, in fact, subject.

These mistakes stemmed from the combination of editing miscues and inaccurate information provided to the Sun Journal. We regret the errors.


Hey Budweiser – this tax’s for you.

In a hasty turn, the Maine Legislature and Gov. John Baldacci fluidly enacted legislation Tuesday that raises state tariffs on certain beers, wines and syrupy beverages to fund the subsidized health insurance program DirigoChoice.

These increases replaced a proposed hike in tobacco taxes, which failed to gain traction among lawmakers, who realized the state couldn’t operate an insurance program and eradicate its revenue source at the same time.

Hence alcohol and soda taxes, the usual suspects after tobacco. These make sense, as their ill health effects are well known. A 2004 study from the Office of Substance Abuse pegged the economic impact of alcohol abuse in Maine at more than $618 million – in the year 2000. It cannot be any less today.

As a substance of abuse, alcohol is indiscriminate; whether liquor, beer, wine or some other concoction, alcohol is an equal opportunity addictor. So as a widespread problem, alcohol should – in theory -be broadly taxed.

This theory, regrettably, the state rejected.

Beer taxes will increase on distributors sending more than 100,000 barrels into Maine annually, a stratospheric threshold that exempts all but beer’s biggest names: Anheuser Busch – brewers of Budweiser – and Miller.

Wine taxes, according to the legislation, will increase on distributors of more than 20,000 bottles annually. This is probably great news for smaller, specialty vineyards, but poor tidings for many popular commercial wineries.

Equitable arguments for increasing alcohol taxes erode against this inequity of the Dirigo legislation. The state has chosen to partially fund DirigoChoice by taxing select, large brewers and vintners.

Viewing this action as a public health effort campaign, instead of a money grab, is therefore difficult.

Maine can tax Budweiser, but not Samuel Adams? Miller High Life but not Pabst Blue Ribbon?

Brands distributed by the largest breweries and wineries, as well, are among the least expensive. Increasing taxes on them is arguably just as regressive as further taxing tobacco.

Critics – there are many – of this legislation have called it taxation without representation, for its rapid, behind-the-scenes development and swift enactment. It received neither public hearing nor much public debate.

Alcohol distributors have powerful lobbyists, though. We know they had representation.

But what these taxes lack is equity. Americans protested at being taxed by England without being heard, but they only got downright rebellious when being taxed unfairly. So, predictably, have affected alcohol distributors.

There’s rumblings they may fund a people’s veto to overturn the tax increases. How can we blame them?

With inequitable alcohol taxes, the state has made it worth their while.

 


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