As state legislators return to work and governors face budget shortfalls, alcohol taxes and alcohol policy are much in the news. At least three alcohol tax hikes were proposed in recent weeks. Ohio Governor John Kasich included a penny/drink wine and beer tax increase last week, in an attempt to “reflect inflation since the last increase in 1992,” reports the Toledo Blade. Earlier, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback proposed doubling the sales tax on alcohol from 8% to 16%. And a Wyoming House Committee passed a bill that would increase wine taxes from 28 cents/gallon to 72 cents/gallon, liquor taxes from 94 cents/gallon to $3.73/gallon and beer taxes from 2 cents/gallon to 20 cents/gallon. The bill also earmarks 78% of the alcohol beverage tax revenue for education funding. Meanwhile, on the federal level, sponsors of an across-the-board tax reduction on beer, wine and spirits excise taxes has been re-introduced in the new Congress.
At the same time, broad alcohol regulation reviews are underway in several states. A task force in Massachusetts will examine the state’s “antiquated” alcohol beverage laws, as state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg dubbed them. One possibility: expanding the state’s alcohol beverage control commission’s mission to include marijuana regulation, reports MassLive. Goldberg also points out that alcohol regulations need to balance business interests with safety: “We want to regulate [alcohol] in a way that keeps it safe while at the same time ensuring that we are supporting something that creates economic growth.” In Iowa, a similar working group appointed by Governor Terry Branstad had the same mission in mind when it recommended some changes to that state’s regulations. “Branstad formed the working group with an eye on balancing the needs of a rapidly expanding growth industry of micro-enterprises’ with state regulations and social concerns associated with alcohol consumption,” according to a report in the Quad-City Times. Among the proposed changes: creating “greater parity” among beer, wine and spirits producers; streamlined licensing; expanding off-premise licenses for brewers; administrative reform and increasing “collaboration between the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission and the Iowa Wine and Beer Promotion Board.”