Wednesday, November 4, 2009

First Shots in the Booze Battle

In today's paper I previewed what's bound to be a big battle in next year's Legislature -- a move to increase the state excise tax on alcoholic beverages.

According to lobbyist Ed Mahr, to whom I spoke yesterday, the state hasn't raised this tax since 1994. But between the increases that year and the year before, the tax went up by 100 percent he said. As the story points out, New Mexico is in the top 10 states for taxes on beer and wine and in the top 20 for distilled spirits. (There's also a tax on "fortified" wine, which is higher, but hardly anyone ever talks about this, I supposed because winos don't vote.)

"In a recession, it's a bad idea to raise any tax. Things are tough out there for businesses. The excise taxes here are too big already," Mahr said.

But Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, argues that his "dime-a-drink" proposal won't have that big of an effect. "If you are going out with your friends to have three or four beers — with a designated driver, of course — you're not going to stay home just because it's going to cost you an extra 40 cents," he said.

Whoever's right, it should be an interesting showdown. The real winners might be the broadcast industry. The last time the state gave serious consideration to raising alcohol taxes (2003) a national liquor industry group waged a radio campaign against the idea.