JEFFERSON CITY — A state representative wants voters to quadruple the tax on beer, double the tax on spirits and boost the tax on wine to pay for a program addressing alcohol abuse and underage drinking.
State Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, introduced House Bill 184, which would create the Fund for the Reduction of Alcohol-Related Problems and Underage Drinking and place the proposed tax increases on the ballot this November.
Gov. Matt Blunt ran on a platform of no new taxes, but Deeken is reluctant to characterize the higher fees as taxes.
“I’m not asking the General Assembly — the members — to pass a tax,” Deeken said. “All I am asking is to give me permission to put it to a vote of the people.”
The tax fees would only apply to people who choose to drink beer, wine or liquor, according to Deeken.
“If you drink, you pay. If you don’t drink, you don’t pay,” he said.
Although Deeken has heard no opposition from the liquor or wine industry, he expects a fight from the folks at Anheuser-Busch. Rod Forth, regional vice-president of the St. Louis brewer, suggested the company will oppose the bill.
“The vast majority of beer drinkers enjoy our products responsibly and in moderation,” said Forth in a written statement. “They don’t impose additional costs on society or on government, and they don’t deserve to be singled out to pay higher taxes to fund additional government spending, however worthy the goals of such spending programs may be.”
Deeken said proceeds from the higher taxes, if approved, would not go to general revenue.
“It will be used specifically for alcohol and drug abuse,” he said.
Alicia Ozenberger, project director for Missouri’s Youth/Adult Alliance, said approval of the bill is a top priority for her agency.
“We want to educate as many citizens as we can about what we feel is a positive bill,” she said.
The bill would boost the tax on beer from 6 cents per gallon to 24 cents, the tax on liquor from $2 per gallon to $4 and the tax on wine from 42 cents per gallon to 78 cents.
Deeken said the extra costs would be worthwhile.
“We are not trying to break the bank,” he said. “We are just trying to take care of people that need help.”