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Beer tax hikes: What they're really about

January 16. 2013 11:21PM

The one thing liberals enjoy taxing almost as much as "the rich" is sin. It is not because they believe being rich is also a sin, although many do. It is because sins, like the rich, are hard to defend, and therefore easier to tax.

In New Hampshire this played out in the general election as Maggie Hassan and other Democrats campaigned hard on hiking the tobacco tax. Though they advocated increasing state spending by hundreds of millions of dollars, the only tax Hassan and many others would advocate raising was the tobacco tax, and then only by enough to raise about $20 million a year.

Now a couple of Democratic House members want to raise the state beer tax by 33 percent, from 30 cents a gallon to 40. The money, they propose, will go to the state's alcohol abuse prevention and treatment fund. "Government serves a necessary service that isn't provided by the private sector," bill sponsor Rep. Charles Weed, D-Keene, said. And here you have the political game by which the left imposes heavier taxes than the public would otherwise accept.

The trick is to impose the tax on something (or someone) that can be portrayed as bad while dedicating the money to something (or someone) that can be portrayed as good. It is not enough to propose raising taxes for the good cause. It is the combination of good vs. bad that makes the trick work because opponents are left not defending low taxes in general, but low taxes on the Bad Thing.

Never mind that, despite Weed's assertion, Alcoholics Anonymous and other services for people with alcohol problems do exist in the private sector. Never mind that the state's alcohol abuse prevention and treatment fund already has a dedicated source of revenue - state liquor sales proceeds (which politicians divert to other uses). Never mind that the beer tax is a regressive tax. It's not about actually funding essential government services or finding the right mix of revenue sources. It's about demonizing specific sectors of the economy to squeeze from each one as much revenue as possible. And it is not going to stop with tobacco and beer.

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