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Beer Lobbyists in Michigan

December 23, 2009

According to a new report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (CCFN), Michigan legislators have decided to not increase the state’s sales tax on beer. In a media release from last week, MCFN director Rich Robinson writes, “The (MI) beer tax, which was last increased in 1962 to 46 cents per case, is wholly inadequate for the purpose it should serve.”

The media release goes on to say:

The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse reported earlier this year that the states generally spend nine dollars for every dollar they collect in alcohol taxes: For everything from health care costs related to obesity, diabetes, STDs, addiction and car crashes; to social service costs for domestic violence, failure in education and child protective services; to criminal justice costs for police, courts and incarceration. There is a world of social wreckage in the wake of alcohol abuse.

Michigan’s beer tax hasn’t kept pace with the escalating costs of the clean-up. When my dad bought a six-pack of Bosch in 1962, the beer tax amounted to 12 percent. Today when I buy a six-pack of my favorite craft brew, the beer tax is barely one percent. Fellow beer drinkers, we’re just not pulling our fair share of the load.

The conclusion that Robinson comes to for this disparity in how Michigan taxes beer is the influence of the lobbyists. MCFN has documented that the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers political action committee has provided $1.5 million in recent years to the members of the 95th Legislature and the various PACs that they control.

West Michigan legislators have been recipients of this PAC money – Dave Agema $10,128, Robert Dean $2,830, Dave Hildenbrand $31,289, and Roy Schmidt $5,850 in the State House; Bill Hardiman $3,000 in the State Senate. You can search information on your State Senators and State Representatives in terms of how much money they have received from beer lobbyists.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Andy Jay permalink
    December 23, 2009 5:18 pm

    Obviously I have issues with lobbyists, especially those for directly harmful products like alcohol. But I really feel like this is a poor tax. If working people want to drink beer and relax from a difficult and stressful life, that’s totally understandable. It’s just like the tobacco tax, and in my opinion it’s the wrong way to deal with the issues. If we don’t want people to use these addictive and harmful substances, we should deal with the root of the problem: that peoples’ lives suck. All the issues that lead to people having shitty lives, and therefore using drugs can’t be dealt with in a fundamentally unequal, exploitative, and alienating society like ours. But I feel like taxing these things is just making people more resentful and angry at any notions of democracy and community wealth (taxing).

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    December 23, 2009 5:24 pm

    Andy, I appreciate the comments and tend to agree with you on the matter of taxing poor and working class people. However, the main point of the posting is to show 1) how wealthy and powerful entities like the MI Beer and Wine Wholesalers influence policy, and 2) that Michigan pays far too much money for the cost of alcohol related social problems than what the beer tax brings in.

    For me the point is how to we minimize or stop the political influence of lobbyists in the democratic process.

  3. Peter Ruark permalink
    December 23, 2009 5:44 pm

    Re Andy’s comment: I acknowledge that the beer tax, like the sales tax, is inherently regressive as it taxes the poor at a higher percentage than the rich. However, if we are going to express concern for the poor, then we need to address the revenue shortfall in this state. When Michigan can’t balance its budget and legislators refuse to raise revenues through taxes, then there are program cuts and the poor get whacked hard. Look at the cuts in various assistance programs (child care subsidies, Medicaid, etc.) and in education in this state. The amount that a low-income worker or any of us others would have to pay for an increased beer tax amounts to pennies per can. Given the money it would raise for the state, that is a sacrifice well worth it.

  4. Micah permalink
    December 24, 2009 4:26 pm

    I also agree with the criticism of the regressive nature of these taxes, but as Jeff said, look at the numbers. If we’re spending nine times more on dealing with the effects of alcohol abuse than we are receiving in taxes from alcohol sales, in a state with as serious of a budget crisis as ours, something’s gotta give. And if the beer tax today is one-twelfth what it was forty years ago, as the report claims, it makes sense to start with upping the tax on alcohol. This pains me greatly, as a person with little money but a very serious love for Founders, but as the press release says, we’re not pulling our fair share.

    And of course you’re right, Andy, about the alienated lives people live in our country, and that drugs are a way to cope with that. Unfortunately, what is on the table right now is not an overhaul of American capitalist society. What IS up for discussion, however, is the taking of these alcohol lobbyists and the politicians accepting their donations to task for policy crafted based on campaign donations rather than the good of the citizens of Michigan.

  5. Dave permalink
    December 31, 2009 12:12 pm

    You all forget one thing. Our present taxes per barrel are highier than all the states around us. We could actually increase revenue and sales by lowering taxes on beer. The border businesses are losing business because their customers go across the borders to buy boos, cigarettes and gas. We’ve taxed our state into poverty. Whatever you tax more, you get less of. The question is where is the break even point? Don’t fall into the idea that your not taxed enough. If you give the government a $1 of tax they will usually spend a $1.10. The states that do the best are those with the lowest taxes. Why? Because businesses can make a profit and come to do it. We’ve continually driven them out by excessive regulations and taxes and thereby lose jobs in the process.

  6. Jeff Smith permalink*
    December 31, 2009 4:13 pm

    Dave, thanks for adding your 2 cents to this discussion, but as I said earlier, this posting is not primarily about taxes from beer it is about the money that the beer and wine sectors give to Michigan politicians to influence state policy. You of all should know Rep. Dave Agema, since you have received $10,128 from the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers political action committee. Lets address that issue and what that money does to influence your decisions as an elected official.

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