Michigan Representative Fights for Charge for Harm Tax

hooker 72A Michigan lawmaker’s efforts to raise the beer excise tax face stiff resistance in the state legislature, according to the Detroit News. State Representative Tom Hooker (R-Byron Center) introduced a bill that would increase the tax nearly 250%, generating an estimated $60 million per year. As a textbook Charge for Harm initiative, the funds would go to the state Department of Health and Human Services to support treatment efforts, as well as programs meant to address alcohol-related harm, prevention, and enforcement.

“If you’re going to use [alcohol], the problems that you cause are going to be paid for, and the same with the producers,” Rep. Hooker told the Detroit News. “They’re producing a poison that’s causing problems to our systems, to our society, and they should have to pay for it.” According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, excess alcohol consumption could cost the state $8.2 billion in lost productivity, health care, and other costs, including alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes. The Department explicitly recommends increasing alcohol excise taxes as a means to control alcohol consumption-related costs.

The proposed tax increase, the state's first since 1966, would leave Michigan with the eighth highest excise tax in the country. The Center for Alcohol Policy notes that the state has the fifth largest number of breweries nationwide, and the most east of the Rockies.

Hooker’s bill faces opposition from a rapidly growing local brewing industry, with lobbyists warning that competition from bordering states could put local liquor stores at a disadvantage. Talking to the Detroit News, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce also opposed the measure, identifying the craft brewing industry as a “significant economic driver for the state.”

The legislation is currently with the House Regulatory Reform committee but is expected to stall there, with Chairman Ray Franz (R-Onekama) saying, “I really don’t think there’s going to be time” to bring it up to the chamber.

Still, Hooker remained adamant about the importance of his bill. “I struggle with expansion of alcohol and recognize that it does damage our families and does damage our systems,” he told the Detroit News. “Not everyone who drinks is going to be an abuser, but those costs have to be borne somewhere.”

FURTHER READING: Alcohol Justice page on Charge for Harm.

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Image credits (l to r): Erica Firment, Joe Dearman, Ian Emerson via Flickr (CC license).