FOX47 NEWS - Beer Tax Debate

Jeff Angileri
Apr 9, 2009, 10:50 PM

With Wisconsin's shortage of cash -- and Dane County's new efforts to curb alcohol abuse -- there is a renewed effort to up the beer tax.

At $2 a barrel (3.65 cents per six-pack), Wisconsin's beer tax is third lowest in the nation. It hasn't changed since 1969.

This is a state where in Milwaukee you can take your children into a tavern after church on Sunday and they can be served as long as the parents are there, said Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin.

Heck says a beer tax increase faces huge hurdles -- one them a powerful state lobby.

The Tavern League is very well organized in every legislative district and every state senate district, said Heck.

Public opinion could soon change that. In a recent study by UW-Health, 58% of voters in Wisconsin support raising the beer tax, and 87% want stricter enforcement of drunken driving laws.

Things are coming together, said Carol Lobes, of the Dane County Coalition to Reduce Alcohol Abuse. People are working together in ways we haven't traditionally done.

Lobes says although a formal bill hasn't been introduced yet, there may be more support than ever to get a law like this passed.

You would have to buy 210 six-packs of beer to equal the tax currently on a carton of cigarettes, she said.

Lobes says the group is working with Representative Terese Berceau (D) 76th District, to draft a bill to raise the beer tax, an issue Berceau has supported in the past.

Fox 47 contacted a dozen Madison-area state legislators to ask their respective opinions. None of them were available for comment.

It becomes a matter of answering to your constituents, said Heck. If they see people speaking strongly in an organized fashion at the local level against this, legislators aren't going to try to change the status quo and stick their necks out, even though it may be the right thing to do.

Wisconsin Tavern League president Barb Mercer says the group opposes any beer tax, and doubts whether it would prevent alcohol abuse.

Representative Terese Berceau has proposed raising the beer tax from $2 to $10 a barrel, which she says breaks down to a 2.5 cent increase for a bottle of beer.


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