San Francisco: Don’t tax our beer

lk0325d5Look out San Franciscans; you may soon be paying more for your favorite beer. San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos said he will ask the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would impose a fee on alcohol to offset city costs related to the consumption of alcohol.

He’s exploring assessing the fee at the point of wholesale. It would then be passed on to the consumer.

Avalos did not commit to an amount, but offered a possibility of 5 cents for a beer, a larger fee on a bottle of wine and an even more for hard liquor. However, unknown to politicians (because they don’t have to live in the real world of business) is the good ‘ol “margin chain.” That “five cents” is increased as it passes from the wholesaler to the retailer and onto the consumer. Suddenly, that five cents becomes more like 50 cents per pint at a bar or pub.

Bruce Livingston, executive director of the Marin Institute, an alcohol-industry watchdog, said booze takes a large toll, tens of millions of dollars, on The City’s resources. Emergency-room visits, fire department responses, traffic enforcement and the adjudication of alcohol-related crimes are just some of the expenses. Really? Should we impose a fee on red meat to help pay for all the emergency room visits and fire department responses for heart attacks? The vast majority of beer consumers enjoy beer in moderation. Should we pay for the few that don’t? Is craft beer responsible for emergency visits? No. Did anyone mention fortified wines.

“It’s an untapped source of revenue existing for the programs that the alcohol industry should contribute to,” said Livingston, who has been in talks with Avalos about the fee. Really? Untapped you say. Did you know that 44% of the cost of beer ALREADY goes to taxes?

Avalos estimated the fee could generate between $16 million and $25 million next fiscal year, “to start” (read: increase the fee later).

Here and elsewhere in America the anti alcohol interests continue their strategy to make change at the local level and build momentum from there. They use the argument that beer is sinful, totally unhealthy and ignore beers contribution to the economy, healthy lifestyles and responsible enjoyment. Beer drinkers already pay an excise tax that goes to the general fund. To create a nexus between beer drinkers paying for social services is wrong and dangerous.

Tax red meat instead.