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Beer-tax bill failed in House, but support grew

Mar 10, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Last year it got just two votes; this year it had 20.

The Wyoming House bill to increase the state malt beverage tax from 2 cents per gallon to 17 cents per gallon gained ground in its second appearance before the Legislature but still failed in the 2014 budget session that adjourned Thursday.

It was received for introduction in the House of Representatives on Feb. 12 but on the next day the bill failed in the required two-thirds vote for introduction. Despite the early rejection from legislators, sponsors of the bill saw the voting numbers as a positive advance for the bill.

"We got almost 20 (votes) this time around and should do even better when we bring it back next session," said one sponsor of the bill, Sen. Ray Peterson. "It is one of those bills that will take a few times to get the message across."

In the 2013 legislative session the bill received just two votes, Peterson said, but this year's larger number of votes gives the sponsors more reason to continue lobbying for the increase.

A persistent push came from Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness, who also was encouraged by the 20 votes.

"I guess we're making headway," he said. "I feel pretty good about it."

Revenue generated by the tax increase would be directed toward the prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse.

Warpness reiterated that the alcohol problems the bill would address are prevalent statewide.

"Maybe, at some point in time, the state will wake up to the fact of how much alcohol is costing our state and how it's being paid by all of the citizens," Warpness said. "And this is just a very small step to help defray those costs."

Peterson said the studies used to support the legislation show the direct cost to the state from alcohol abuse is estimated to be $27.5 million annually.

"In short, we subsidize alcohol abuse in our state at $60 million each biennium," Peterson said. "Even with the proposed increase, we would still be $56 million short."

Warpness said some legislators didn't think the $250,000 being generated for the state by the current 2-cent tax is even worth considering in the state funding picture. He encouraged sponsors to push for the 28-cent tax increase that would bring in $3.7 million more for the state. The proposed increase also kept distributors and resellers from surrounding states in mind as to not put them at a disadvantage with-out-of state competitors, Peterson said.

Another bill on a substance abuse grant program sponsored by Peterson and State Rep. Patrick Goggles, R-Ethete, also didn't go far in the session. The "companion bill" would have use the revenue generated from the increase for substance abuse costs from treatment programs, law enforcement, and court costs.

"In the regular session we will not need the two-thirds vote on introduction but just a majority," Peterson said. "And if we can get the bill into second and third reading, then we can have some good floor debate and argue against any possible objections."

Peterson said supporters plan to include more local government support in the future and provide legislators with more data.