Opinion: Beer, wine taxes should invest in hope, recovery
The international pandemic that has gripped our friends and neighbors for nearly a year now has resulted in more than 2.5 million deaths around the world, more than half a million in the United States, and just over 2,300 here in Oregon. This historic global tragedy has also exposed a broken safety net in our communities that existed long before the world shut down in March 2020, a net that policymakers must address.
Alcohol addiction historically was a problem that was largely ignored by the government until activists forced the issue throughout the past 150 years, most notably the Temperance Movement in the late 1800s and early 20th Century, the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous by Dr. Robert Smith in 1935 and the movement to curb drunk driving in the 1980s. It is an issue shrouded in shame and secrecy, both by the victims of the disease and the family and loved ones who suffer silently from its effects. There is a stigma of shame surrounding addiction that can create difficulty for those seeking help. The lack of addiction support from all levels of government has served as a signal to our communities that the problems don't merit the attention we know it deserves.
I have introduced House Bill 3296, the Addiction Crisis and Recovery Act, this legislative session in order to fight decades of apathy in Oregon surrounding this issue. The bill proposes a tax increase for beer, wine, and cider excise taxes in order to establish an Addiction Crisis Recovery Fund. This fund will be managed by the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission, who will appropriate the funds raised to the Oregon Health Authority to fund projects including but not limited to the establishment of 24 addiction recovery centers, community-based case initiatives, prevention initiatives, outpatient care, and post-incarceration reentry services.
Oregon has the fifth lowest tax rate in the nation for beer, and the eleventh lowest for wine. With this increase, Oregon would have the highest alcohol excise tax in the nation, true, but these taxes would be higher than other states in order to accommodate for Oregon's lack of sales tax (which should be noted is a source of public funding challenges across the board and higher property taxes). The cost for the consumer is ultimately the same or less than other states with higher excise taxes and sales tax.
There has been communication from the alcohol industry that this increase is "thousands of percent higher" than the current levels — but it must be noted that the current levels are basically zero — $10 for a six-pack of beer is charged 1 cent of tax, and that tax rate hasn't been increased since 1977. The same cost for a bottle of wine is 13 cents currently, and that hasn't been raised since 1982. Further, the pennies from under the couch raised from these taxes aren't funding addiction recovery.
Alcohol abuse is the most common addiction among Oregonians. During the past year, 95% of Oregonians struggling with substance abuse were unable to receive care. There is a clear need for these services.
For slightly more than 25 cents per $10 six-pack (approximately the current price of craft beer), lives can begin to be saved. Polling last year demonstrated that 70% of Oregonians support raising the price of alcohol in order to increase access to treatment and recovery services. Contrast these facts with an Oregon Health Authority study last month that revealed that excessive alcohol consumption costs the state $4.8 billion annually in lost labor productivity, criminal justice and motor vehicle crashes, health care, and education and social welfare costs.
It is long past time for our legislature to act on this issue and I urge citizens to consider the facts and cost to our friends and neighbors when considering the Addiction Crisis and Recovery Act.
State. Rep. Tawna Sanchez represents North/Northeast Portland's House District 43.
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