Monday, February 16, 2009

Defeat Extra Beer Taxes: HB 2461

When I was inveighing against Oregon's smoking ban, I pointed out that "public health" is the new good-luck charm that neo-Puritans use to get otherwise progressive people on board with their efforts to legislate morality. Now they're at it again, with Oregon House Bill 2461: a proposal to increase the excise tax on beer by 2008%, to the highest in the nation.

Be very afraid of these people: they love the power of regulating individual behavior, and they love it when everyone lets them get away with claims that it's for our own good. They're comfortable with big lies, like the claim that "untreated substance abuse" costs Oregon $5 billion a year -- nicely refuted on Beervana. Or take this statement by one of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Ben Cannon of Portland -- "We know that this works, and it pays for itself many times over in reduced incarceration, reduced crime." -- at about 1:32 in this KGW video. Liar, liar, pants on fire! (Thanks, Steve Novick.) You do not know that a punitive tax on beer production results in reduced crime. Be a man, and admit that you want to tax activities that seem sinful, because you are afraid to increase state revenues with taxes that make more sense.

It may be possible to excuse Cannon for sponsoring this sin tax -- his Portland district seems to have been gerrymandered to exclude any of our city's fine breweries -- but my own State Senator Diane Rosenbaum is also listed as a sponsor of this bill. Her district includes six small, locally-owned breweries that would be severely impacted by this bill:
  • Hair of the Dog
  • Lucky Labrador
  • Roots
  • Hopworks
  • Clinton Street
  • Philadelphia's
To give you an example of the impact this would have, Jim Parker estimates that Hopworks' tax bill would increase by $150,000 per year. That's a mom-and-pop establishment, beloved by the community, started from scratch by local entrepreneurs, whose business practices are very "green". And you're going to increase their taxes by an amount that is about 3 or 4 full-time salaries? Sen. Rosenbaum should be extremely embarrassed to have her name on this bill.

  • Drop what you're doing right now, and write your state legislators.
  • As usual, Jeff Alworth has a very level-headed analysis (even though he fell for the smoking ban).
  • This comes up every two years. Let's go nuclear. The Oregon Brewers Guild should write an initiative that amends the Oregon Constitution to require a unanimous vote of the legislature to raise beer taxes.
  • "Defeat Extra Beer Taxes" can be typed just with the left hand on a QWERTY keyboard.


  1. Valentine's Day is over, Jeff! At least I called you level-headed. :-)

  2. Ok, I have seen so freaking many posts on Oregon House Bill 2461 this that I just had to take a closer look. I am always a little skeptical when groups use shocking percentages in their political statements. While the percentage is “ghastly”, what are the real numbers?

    The current tax on malt beverages has been static since 1977. Currently it is $2.60 per 31 gallon barrel. The proposed increase would be to $49.61 be barrel. So if you figure that there are 248 pints per barrel and that the tax is increasing by $47.01 you have a net effect of .19 per pint glass. Nobody is shouting those numbers from the rooftops. I mean really, that is less than a .25 per glass increase since 1977.

    Then we have the scary stories about the Oregon’s small brewers being unfairly hurt (and having to close their doors). Really? The tax applies to imported malt beverages as well as those produced in Oregon, so the Oregon brewers are not at a disadvantage to the out of state brewers. Small brewers might even see a slight benefit. Brewers that produce less than 200,000 barrels (that’s 6,200,000 gallons or 49,000,000 pints) per year are exempt from the new tax.

    As for me I really don’t care about this tax one way or another. I do think that the beer industry has gotten a pass (since 1977), but hey they can afford good lobbyists. My gripe is disingenuous manner that issue is portrayed by the malt beverage industry. Shocking headlines and alarmist predictions of eminent economic doom are much more convenient than actually discussing the underlying costs being shouldered by the general public, directly related to their product. This is an exceedingly complex issue and deserves more than the hallow talk radio talking head treatment it has been getting.

    I encourage everyone to take a legitimate look at the tax on their own. Skip the industry and political shills and do the math for yourself. There are plenty of nonpartisan sources of information just a few mouse clicks away.

  3. Let's check this Anonymous commenter's facts.

    Brewers that produce less than 200,000 barrels per year are exempt from the new tax. Wrong. That was the 2007 bill. The 2009 bill makes no such exemption.

    The proposed increase would be to $49.61 [a] barrel. Wrong. It's an increase of $49.61 per barrel, on top of any other tax. It would be the highest in the nation.

    you have a net effect of .19 per pint glass. Wrong. Since it's applied at the producer instead of the consumer, the increase gets magnified down the line. Not for beer sold on premises, of course, but read on for the problems with that.

    the Oregon brewers are not at a disadvantage to the out of state brewers. Irrelevant. The issue is that when you suddenly tax a small local brewer like Lompoc, Roots, or Laurelwood the equivalent of several employee salaries, it is scary and dangerous for that small company. Furthermore it does put Oregon brewers at a disadvantage to wine and hard liquor, who arguably contribute to more substance abuse but are not part of this money grab.

    predictions of eminent economic doom are much more convenient than actually discussing the underlying costs being shouldered by the general public... OK, now you have revealed yourself as a busybody who wants to punitively tax other peoples' vices. Look, our entire society should be invested in funding help for substance abusers. Why do the vast majority of responsible drinkers have to pay extra for that? Why beer drinkers and not wine drinkers or gin drinkers?

    You also seem to imply that I'm an "industry or political shill". I'm just an amateur, in love with Oregon, and I don't want to see one of the great things about this state trampled by people with a petty agenda. Who are you anonymously shilling for?

  4. Yeah, I love the anonymous posters who through random accusations around.

    This is really an issue of priorities. Lots of people would love to tax the hell out of beer. Lots of people would love to remove the tax altogether. There's not a "right" answer. The back and forth is the churn of democracy. Fortunately, this being Beervana, my guess is that folks like Anon are going to lose this one.

  5. Bill: I finally figured it're typing your posts entirely with your left hand to avoid setting down your beer!

  6. Jeff: I really enjoyed the comparison of beer taxes/beer consumption you posted today. You're right, there's no way this thing will pass, but it's galling nonetheless.

    Dave: Stop looking in my window.

  7. I wouldn't have to look through your window if you invited me over for a beer.