MTPR

Booze Tax Backers Take Another Whack

Mar 17, 2017

Delicious Montana craft beers
Credit Eric Whitney

The state’s budget passed a final vote in the Montana House this morning and is now moving to the Senate. Democrats there are continuing efforts to increase taxes that they say would bring in more money to help currently underfunded state programs.

The latest tax increase proposal introduced in the Senate today could raise the cost of beer, wine and hard alcohol.

When Governor Steve Bullock released his budget late last year, he called for a 50 percent bump in the state’s wine tax to help make up for revenue shortfalls.

That proposal, carried by Cutbank Democrat Lea Whitford, failed to pass out of a Senate Taxation Committee in February. Opponents of the bill rejected it, in part, because they said it unfairly taxed wine and hard cider, not other kinds of alcohol.

Senator Whitford came back to the Senate today with another proposal, that would increase the tax on all alcohol products by 10 percent.

“It’s not a big amount," Whitford said.  "It’s not going to backfill all that we are looking at, as far as decrease in revenues, however this is an opportunity to bring in some taxes and revenue that could eventually help people across the state.”

The tax proposal would increase state revenue from alcohol sales by about $11.5 million over the next four years.

Whitford’s bill was supported by unions who could possibly see funding in their industries tick up with an increase in the state budget, the Montana Department of Revenue, and several student advocate groups.

Representatives from the alcohol industry, Montana Taxpayers Association, and the Montana Chamber of Commerce say the bill would hurt the state’s business climate and it unfairly targets the alcohol industry to make up for the state’s shortfall in revenue.

The legislature's Republican majority has routinely voted down tax increase proposals through the legislative session.