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Warpness garners support for tax hike on beer purchases

Jan 29, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Before the Wyoming Legislature convenes in February, Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness is giving an extra push to his state beer tax proposal.

Warpness updated members of the Fremont County Association of Governments during the group's meeting Jan. 16.

He spoke about his recent efforts to reach out to legislators for their support on raising the tax on beer from 2 cents a gallon to 28 cents. He said the revenue that comes from the tax should be used to alleviate alcohol-related problems.

Warpness said he has received more than a dozen letters from legislators in response to the bill and an e-mail from Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, who is gathering final support.

Peterson said in an e-mail Jan. 7 that he was trying to get a co-sponsor from the Wyoming House of Representatives side of the bill, and he has shared information on how much alcohol abuse costs the state with each representative and senator in Fremont County.

He said the bill will come closer to completion once he finalizes it with the Legislative Service Office, then he can give his final approval so it can be sent out to legislators and they can sign up as co-sponsors.

"I've been trying to get a good supporter on the House side that will do a good job in presenting the bill, as it has to be introduced on that side first, as it is a revenue bill," Peterson said in the e-mail.

Feedback

He added that some of the feedback he has received concerns using the revenue for a grant program that municipalities can apply to and use for programs related to alcohol abuse enforcement and treatment. The current bill proposes an increase on the malt beverage to be about 20 cents per gallon which would generate an additional $2 million in revenue to the general fund.

Shoshoni Mayor Scott Peters said he would hope the revenue would show to be as transparent as the optional 1 percent sales tax money that directly funds rebuilding streets and water and sewer infrastructure.

"We know exactly what comes in and what goes out," Peters said. "It doesn't go into the general fund so it can cut back something else."

Statewide issue

Warpness recently presented the tax proposal to the Wyoming Legislature's Revenue Committee in Buffalo in hopes of moving it forward. He also shared some opposing viewpoints he has heard. He offered copies of the publicized comments from Wyoming State Liquor Association lobbyist Mike Moser who said his organization would fight the increase because the bill's intention is to pay for Fremont County's issues.

"Alcohol abuse is a statewide problem that is killing our citizens," Warpness said in an e-mail to senators. "It is not just a Fremont County issue as the liquor lobby would try to portray it."

He provided a newspaper clipping that stated the Wyoming Department of Transportation reported that there were 971 crashes statewide in 2012 that involved driving under the influence, with 41 of those claiming lives.

"Anyone that believes it is just a Fremont County problem has their head in the sand," Warpness said to members of FCAG.

He also referred to a presentation by Volunteers of America PATH Grant coordinator Dana Flint who said there is a need for facilities that treat people with mental disabilities and alcohol abuse problems.

"You got all these wonderful ideas (but) who's paying for them?" Warpness said, adding that years back, Riverton had an opportunity to open a transitional housing facility but had to turn it down because of a lack of funding.

Although the initial 28 cents a gallon proposal seems like a big increase from the current tax, those against the hike will try to bring that number lower, he said.

"I think we need to shoot as high as we can," Warpness said." They'll do everything they can to drive it down."