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My Turn: Beer tax increase might be just what we need

Re: “Beer tax bill is hard to swallow” (Monitor Forum, Jan. 21):

As a beer drinker, I read with interest the republished editorial from the Portsmouth Herald opposing Rep. Chuck Weed’s proposal for an increase in the state’s beer tax. After reading their reasoning behind opposing the bill, I fear the Herald’s editorial staff may have had their judgment clouded by a few too many beers themselves.

While the editorial does not cite the exact amount of the proposed increase, based on the current tax rate of 30 cents per gallon, and the anticipated increase in revenue projected, it’s fairly easy to discern that Weed’s bill calls for an increase in the beer tax of about 10 cents per gallon, or roughly 1 penny per 12-ounce bottle of beer. The editorial goes on to suggest that this increase would lead out-of-staters to stop driving across state lines to purchase beer and other goods and would harm New Hampshire’s main beer brewers, Smuttynose and Redhook.

I enjoy various beers from both Smuttynose and Redhook. Accordingly, I know that any beer from these premium brewers will cost you somewhere between $6 and $10 a six pack, depending on which label and where you purchase it. When making a beer purchase, I would not dream of traveling across town to save 6 cents a six-pack, much less think about crossing state lines to save even a dollar. If someone is crossing state lines to buy beer in New Hampshire, I’m guessing that they must be combining it with some other tax-free shopping and that the savings in doing so are dramatic enough that a 6-cent increase in the price of a six-pack would not likely serve as the tipping point. Does the Portsmouth Herald truly believe that such an increase will meaningfully influence consumer behavior? Or cause dramatic harm to New Hampshire’s brewing industry?

Unfortunately, when I read this editorial, the only harm I saw was that which results from “the pledge” and the prevailing wisdom among many of our elected officials that all tax increases are evil. If you polled average beer drinkers, and asked whether a 6-cent increase in a six-pack would change their buying behavior, I can assure you the majority would likely answer “no.” If you asked whether they would be willing to pay 6 cents more a six-pack to help pay for alcohol treatment, or more beds for the state hospital, or to help fix our roads, I’m guessing the answer might be “Okay, that’s fine.” But too often the question is not framed that way. Instead every tax increase is spun as some potential doomsday scenario with catastrophic implications for the state’s economy and businesses.

I hope that Weed’s proposed legislation enjoys broad support and that Gov. Maggie Hassan will reconsider her opposition. It’s exactly these kinds of modest increases on affordable luxuries that can generate millions of dollars in revenue, revenue that, in the absence of a realistic, reliable revenue source like a broad-based tax, this state is in very desperate need of.

So cheers to Rep. Chuck Weed, and thank you for acting responsibly.

(Scott Metzger lives in Hopkinton.)

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