Proposed 'dime-a-drink' tax increase should be beyond legal limit

What's influencing legislators?

Posted: Friday, March 29, 2002

There's something suspiciously amiss in Juneau right now. Intrinsic to the Legislature's eagerness to demagogue a ludicrous increase of 300 percent in alcohol taxation is something far more sinister, subtle and suspect. Senate Bill 347 and House Bill 225 are temporarily bound up (by the slightest of margins) in each respective branch.

When this legislation re-emerges, and it will soon, we will have all lost, whether we drink or not, unless sanity prevails.

Taxation and morality attacks on an overwhelming majority of any given group will never wield the problematic into submission. This is a thinly cloaked revenue scheme that seeks to ameliorate the Legislature's lack of vision, fortitude and impending political consequences that may lay ahead.

I can only hope for some adhesion to the majority's professed allegiance to at least one basic tenet of conservatism, the sanctity of man's free will and the recognition of the responsibilities that couple with that endowment.

I'm struggling to maintain confidence that the liberal element stands by its profession of being in the forefront for the working class. Within debate for this legislation, I've watched an absolute crystallization of both political elements as they unilaterally push us toward the specter of further social statism.

I write not only as a local tavern and liquor store owner but as tenured political watcher and practitioner who is deeply concerned and has tracked the pretense, problems and predatory taxation associated with these bills since their birth. How have we arrived at this precipice?

I make no excuses for and do not champion the causes of abusers (an unchanging swath in our society). I believe, categorically, that people should be held responsible for their own behavior. How could it possibly be otherwise? Unfortunately, it could be. Through years of social engineering, our society has slowly shifted behavioral responsibility away from self to the collective whole.

As this trend continues to build momentum, expect the ranks of societal derelicts to grow proportionately to the number of questionable behavior modification programs and taxation schemes to deal with them. These bills pretentiously seek to mitigate the transgressions of this destructive swath.

(All familiar with the mechanics of the Alaska Constitution know these dollars cannot be dedicated and will move into the general fund for whatever purposes hold the most political might, just as the tobacco tax increase did.)

When will someone seriously address the idea of civil restitution and lock the revolving door of our criminal justice system? Is that not a politically approachable solution? Today, someone, or something, can almost always supplant our own accountability and that transfer usually fuels a connected political agenda.

As a small business owner, I resent the notion that I, and 99 percent of my clientele are somehow accountable for most of the social and welfare ills that plague Alaska society and plunder the state offers to the tune of half a billion dollars annually.

Proponents claim that this amount of expenditure justifies the outrageous tax increase aforementioned. Not only are these numbers conveniently skewed by mixing drug abuse (legal and illegal) into the cost scheme, consumption statistics are inflated by combining our 1.2 million annual tourists with residents. These two factors alone do much to relegate the cost estimates to nonsensical.

Consumption here is on par with the rest of the states. We are already a highly regulated and taxed industry. Unfortunately, drugs are neither regulated nor taxed and therefore not as easily tied to the whipping post. No one seems willing to address the massiveness of that problem and conveniently dismiss it by stating there is no accurate data available. If we seek to mitigate these supposed costs, does any means justify the end? Who and what are next for sin taxes begging for mercy at the feet of Carrie Nation's descendants?

This proposed legislation is euphemistically being sold to the public as a "dime-a-drink" increase. In reality, the consequences are much more dire. As the gallonage rate rises from the current $5.60 to $18.40, we will have superceded Florida (presently No. 1 at $6.44) by a whopping $11.90. Our tax will be an incredible 283 percent above theirs. It's a hard row for the working class to hoe anymore.

At $12 to $18 an hour, he's not going to buy that new pickup or house with $1,500 monthly mortgage. His luxuries are confined; he smokes a pack a day and has a couple of beers after work. He knows it's not the best thing for him, but the vast majority partake and behave responsibly. Combined increases in alcohol and tobacco taxes will successfully lift $1,000 annually from his ragged billfold.

My situation as a purveyor is even more dubious. The numbers don't and won't allow me to compete with the big box stores. Consequently, we will see further corporate consolidation of this highly regulated business. Perhaps, ultimately, the goal is complete state control akin to 18 states and Canada. Clearly, this is a tax on the little guy. It was born on the pretense of serving the public good and simultaneously moves the agenda that says we are all victims of something other than ourselves.

And so, watch closely. Are we at the vanguard on this? Will the Legislature equitably seek to address the current budget crunch or just pursue the feel-good, new revenue devices? The nation is watching, ready to follow in lockstep as the Legislature advances.

Gary Superman is a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and business owner. He lives in Nikiski.

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