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Mayor to county: Help raise beer tax
Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness asked for the county's support in lobbying for a higher state beer tax. Photo by Eric Blom

Mayor to county: Help raise beer tax

Dec 16, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Ron Warpness proposes raising the tax from 2 cents a gallon to 28 cents, in hopes the new revenue would be spent on alcohol-related problems.

Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness wants the Fremont County Commission to help in lobbying for a higher state tax on beer.

The county board and state legislators at the meeting Tuesday indicated they would provide some support on the issue.

Warpness proposes to raise the tax on beer from 2 cents a gallon to 28 cents. He hopes the new revenue would be spent on alcohol-related problems.

"There's more tax on one cigarette than there is on a gallon of beer," Warpness said. "We do not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on drunk tanks for smokers; we do not have families beating each other up over a cigarette."

He pointed to Riverton's Center of Hope as an agency that would be able to receive funds from an increased and earmarked beer tax.

Warpness chose 28 cents a gallon, because that is the national average, he said. The state's tax on beer has not changed since 1935. In contrast, the tax on cigarettes is 60 cents a pack.

State Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, is drafting legislation similar to Warpness's proposal, the mayor said. Peterson's bill would set the tax at 20 cents a gallon and direct all revenue into the state's general fund.

Warpness would prefer income from the tax be earmarked for services that help with the social problems caused by alcohol, he said.

"If it doesn't get down to the people who need the help, I'm just not very excited about that," Warpness said.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson thought if the funds were not earmarked, there would be no guarantee the tax would help with alcohol's problems.

"I think the citizens of Fremont County are willing to ante up if they see a clear link between their money and something that's going to help the problem, but don't want to see their money go into a black hole," he said.

Conversely, commissioner Keja Whiteman supported the tax but not earmarking its revenue.

Thompson said the county board did not have time then to discuss a resolution supporting Warpness's proposal but would address the issue at a later meeting.

State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said he supported raising the tax.

"I actually do support the tax, but I think there's a feeling (in the state Legislature) against the earmarking," he said. "I think there's a feeling an earmark for any narrow interest doesn't make it worthwhile to collect."

He thought directing revenue from the tax to the general fund and increasing funding for services related to alcohol problems was a better route.