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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Duin on the Beer Tax

Just when you thought I'd taken my tire-iron and walked away from the dead horse, here we go with another beer tax post! Well, blame Steve Duin, who today castigated the cheapskates in the brewing industry who won't pony up for all the devastation they cause to public health. (Steve's cool, if dyspeptic and occasionally off-base, so don't take the following commentary as general criticism.)

His arguments amount to the ill-considered following points:

1. The tax hasn't been raised for 30 years. Duin: "That piddling amount has been held sacred by Oregon legislators who gather in Maui every year on vacations paid for by Paul Romain, the beer-wine-and-boondoggle lobbyist."

2. Van Havig's prose is misleading, and plus, he works for a Colorado-based brewery.

3. Taxes don't actually threaten breweries, and plus, Havig says drug and alcohol programs would "rely" on the tax, when they are only one part of the income; and anyway, contributing to this fund is important because it's actually it's a punitive measure for breweries " to treat the alcoholics drowning in its product."

4. The tax is cheap. Duin: "Eight-tenths of a cent. Bear in mind that this is an industry that didn't hesitate last weekend at the third annual Oregon Craft Brewfest in Silverton to charge beer lovers $10 for a commemorative glass and four 'samples.'"

5. Taxes have nothing to do with the price of beer.

6. And anyway, mostly Bud will pick up the tab, so whatcha complaining about?

I don't mind someone supporting the beer tax as policy, but this editorial pretty much avoids the policy discussion in favor of cheap rhetorical potshots. Had Duin actually wrangled with the details, he'd have found that supporting the tax was less convenient than his article suggests. There are thorny issues here.

So, to rebut:

1. So what? It's a regressive, additional tax targeting a specific industry. Why should we naturally assume it will always rise? A better question is: should we be targeting the beer industry with an additional tax burden in the first place?

2. As opposed to Duin's prose, which is edifying. But wait, he works for Advance Publications, based in New York.

3. For a guy who massages facts and manipulates emotions to score rhetorical points, Duin is awfully touchy when Havig does it, too. As to the punitive intent, here's a question: if you're going to claim that the Oregon brewing industry is drowning alcoholics, shouldn't you--I don't know--prove it? A stat here or there, perhaps? Oregon breweries are really drowning alcoholics? Tough words....

4. The tax is not cheap to small brewers who find it hard to barely make ends meet. And if the issue is punishing people who make money off drowning alcoholics, why must brewers take all the heat, while bars and distributors get off Scot free?

5. It could be; after all, Iraq really had nothing to do with 9/11.

6. In one scenario, Bud would pick up most of the tab. Is that the one Duin supports? And what happens when Deschutes makes enough to qualify for the tax and has to take on millions in taxes. Will they be able to dismiss those expenses as easily as Steve?

Okay, enough on the rant. But that was a sloppy, lame editorial. I expect more.

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