Prusak removes name from alcohol tax bill
After speaking with constituents and advocates from Oregon's beer and wine industry, Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn and Tualatin, decided to remove her name as one of the two sponsors for House Bill 3296. The bill, also known as the Addiction Recovery Crisis Act, made headlines across the state over the past week for its proposed tax increase on Oregon's beer, wine and cider.
Prusak said though she didn't write the bill, she initially signed on to support it because she supported the addiction recovery resources it would fund. But she acknowledged that now is not the time to shock the hard-hit beer and wine industry with a steep new tax.
Instead, the second term legislator said she'd work on a bill that would examine how the state uses existing tax money from Oregon alcohol sales.
HB 3296 proposes raising the tax on a 31-gallon barrel of beer or cider from $2.60 to $72.60 and the tax on a barrel of wine from 67 cents to $10.67 per barrel, figures that appeared more like big red flags to Oregon's alcohol industry.
"A 2000% increase in and of itself should cause alarm in any fair minded person," said Andy Parks of Campbell Lane Winery in West Linn.
Prusak said she wants to continue the conversation prompted by HB 3296 and include health care professionals, addiction recovery advocates and members of the state's beer and wine industries. This idea isn't too far from what Parks had in mind.
Parks said he fully supports funding services to help those struggling with addiction and is all for having a conversation with legislators about how to do that.
Mike Thayer of Pete's Mountain Vineyard isn't opposed to that idea either.
"I think we have to come to the middle on things," he said.
According to Thayer, the new taxes proposed in HB 3296 would likely force a number of small wineries throughout Oregon to close.
If this bill passes, family-owned winery business operating costs would rise significantly overnight.
"Wineries will have a tough decision to make," Thayer said. "One option is to close their businesses. The second option would be to cut costs in the winemaking process which would affect the quality of our wines. Third, we could raise the cost to our customers by $2-$3 per bottle."
Hank Jarboe, the owner of Boston's Pub & Grill in Wilsonville, said that tax increases would lead to restaurants, breweries and grocery stores raising prices on beer and wine. He worried the higher drink prices would deter people from coming into his restaurant.
"I don't think anyone in Wilsonville wants to pay $9 for a beer," said Don Anderson of Vanguard Brewing.
The bill's advocates argue that increasing the price of alcohol is the point. Oregon Recovers, the non-profit that helped craft the bill, said that raising the price of alcohol would limit both binge drinking and underage drinking.
HB 3296 points out that Oregon's excise tax on alcohol hasn't been raised in 40 years. This, along with the fact that Oregon has the nation's third highest addiction rate while ranking 47th in access to addiction treatment, motivated the bill's architects in crafting the legislation.
Thayer and Parks said they would have appreciated legislators coming to talk to them about the need for addiction recovery services and a possible tax on alcohol before reading about it in the news.
Prusak said she commended Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D- North Portland, who crafted the bill with Oregon Recovers, for starting the conversation about creating addiction recovery services and how to fund them.
"But, if we're going to be honest, this doesn't have a three fifths vote. It doesn't even have my vote," Prusak said.
Because this bill likely won't have the legs to pass as is, Prusak said she believed its proponents would be open to continuing the conversation that started with HB 3296.
"How do we support our businesses and engage them in honest conversations about how we help our community members, those struggling with addiction who cannot get treatment, those constantly going in and out of prison, those constantly going in and out of hospital? Those losing their kids to the foster care system, those losing their jobs? How do we do that?" Prusak said. "And I'm thankful that the advocates and Rep. Sanchez started that conversation but again, you know, once I got to the finer details of the bill, it's just we need to take a different approach."
To find that different approach, , Prusak said in coming weeks she will introduce legislation to track the uses of revenue from current taxes on alcohol as well as Measure 110, which was passed by Oregon voters in 2020 to decriminalize drug possession and fund drug addiction recovery services.
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