If you brew beer or make wine in Oregon, the past year has been a challenge.
It could hardly be otherwise, what with bars and restaurants, the places where many people prefer to enjoy Oregon-made beverages, being closed or severely restricted for much of the past 12 months.
Proponents of House Bill 3296, which is under consideration in the Oregon Legislature, are offering as a treatment for these economic wounds a hefty dose of salt.
The bill would boost state taxes on beer by almost 2,700%, and on wine by nearly 1,500%.
Or to put the proposed tax hikes in a perspective that’s perhaps easier to comprehend than four-digit percentage boosts, the tax on a 31-gallon barrel of beer would rise from $2.60 to $72.60. The tax on wine would increase from 65 cents per gallon to $10 per gallon.
John Harris, founder and brewmaster for Ecliptic Brewing in Portland, branded the proposed tax increase as both “ludicrous” and “bonkersville.”
Harris obviously has a particular bias.
But his description — including coining a noun not found in most dictionaries — is hardly inappropriate given the scale of the proposed tax hikes.
The basic purpose of House Bill 3296 has merit.
The state would use the new tax revenue to expand its addiction treatment programs, including building detoxification centers and residential treatment centers.
Proponents, including Mike Marshall, executive director of Oregon Recovers, which helped write the bill, also say the tax increase, by boosting the price of beer and wine, would cut back on underage and binge drinking.
This claim isn’t compelling, considering that even more dramatic actions by the government — recall the failed experiment known as Prohibition — didn’t exactly result in a drier society.
Using taxes on alcohol to deal with some of the societal problems that it contributes to is sensible.
But imposing tax increases so exorbitant that they almost certainly would harm an industry that has brought economic benefits to rural parts of Oregon, including Baker County, as well as its urban centers, isn’t justified.
Passing House Bill 3296 would be a Pyrric victory given that it almost certainly would doom some businesses. Breweries that don’t brew and wineries that stop fermenting grapes don’t pay alcohol taxes.
House Bill 3296 can provoke a discussion in the Legislature about beer and wine taxes and the state’s role in dealing with alcohol addiction and its associated problems.
But it doesn’t deserve to become a law.
— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor