Utah’s beer tax is set to increase May 1, after House approval Monday of a pair of bills that revamp state liquor laws and use some of the revenue from beer sales and increased license fees to combat over consumption and underage drinking. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Utah Senate Bill 153, which overhauls laws governing sales of alcoholic beverages, and Senate Bill 66, which increases the tax on wholesale beer and creates a dedicated fund to help local governments deter and prosecute drunken driving offenses, passed the Utah House with amendments. The measures will be returned to the Utah Senate for acceptance of the amendments, but since the changes endorsed by the House were compromises negotiated with senators sponsoring the bills, the votes in the Senate are expected to be a mere matter of course.
Utah’s tax on beer will increase from $11 to $12.80 per barrel (a little more than one cent per can), not as high as the $14-per-keg tax originally contemplated. To compensate for that lower increase, lawmakers instead moved up the tax hike’s effective date to May 1. The early start will help generate revenue needed to balance the states 2003-04 general fund, in addition to building up the fund for law enforcement. Arguments against the beer-tax increase focused on the fact that the existing $11 per barrel tax already raises more money than previous legislatures had targeted to help local governments fight DUI cases, and even then, lawmakers have raided those funds repeatedly to cover general expenses. Democratic Representative Scott Daniels argued that because the revenue ends up being used for such broad purposes, it was unfair “to take a narrow segment of the population who are quite politically powerless — the people who drink beer.” Rep. Gregory Hughes, R-Draper, compared the proposed tax hike to the “unjust taxation” disputes that triggered the Boston Tea Party. Rep. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, retorted, “If you drink too much tea you get hyper and have go to the bathroom. If you drink too much beer you have problems,” a sentiment not uncommon in Utah, a state with some of the country’s strictest alcohol-control laws.