Editorial: Lay off our suds, lawmakers

The Detroit News

A Michigan lawmaker wants to protect state residents from their own vices — beer, in this case — and while he may have good intentions, the Legislature isn’t the right venue for this particular cause. Personal moral convictions don’t necessarily translate to sound legislation.

State Rep. Tom Hooker, R-Byron Center, introduced a bill last week that would hike the state’s beer tax nearly 250 percent. House leadership has pretty much shut down his hopes, and the legislation shouldn’t get traction. Being a third-term member, Hooker should know better.

His goal isn’t to raise revenue. It’s to influence behavior he finds objectionable: beer drinking.

Hooker is concerned about the effects of alcohol because of his family’s experience. Proceeds from the higher tax would go to substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation.

For the first time since 1966, the bill seeks to increase Michigan’s beer excise tax, to $21.70 from $6.30 per barrel, about a 5-cent increase per 12-ounce can or bottle. Oddly, this bill only targets beer — not the more potent wine or spirits.

The lawmaker, who doesn’t have any co-sponsors, is hoping to start a conversation about alcohol abuse. He’s worried because his mother had to spend time in an orphanage because her parents had alcohol problems.

Hooker calls his bill a “user tax.”

“If you’re going to use it, the problems that you cause are going to be paid for, and the same with the producers,” he says. “They’re producing a poison that’s causing problems to our systems, to our society, and they should have to pay for it.”

Hooker has made the decision to personally stay away from alcohol and that may be the best for him. But he should leave the rest of Michigan out of it. Not everyone who drinks has a drinking problem.

This is lawmaking at its worst. One lawmaker trying to turn his pet peeve into a law.

As Michigan’s craft beer industry is gaining steam, this is the wrong kind of message for the Legislature to send.

Hooker has said he’s concerned about the state’s growing beer production. For instance, Grand Rapids advertises itself as “Beer City” thanks to the number of new breweries around downtown, some of which have gained national acclaim.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce came down hard on Hooker’s legislation, pointing out that it would put local businesses that sell beer at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states.

“As a whole, Michigan’s beer industry contributes $6.6 billion to the state’s economy, employs thousands of people and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue,” argues Jim Holcomb, senior vice president for business advocacy and general counsel for the chamber. “This ill-advised tax increase will hurt each and every retailer, distributor, brewery and brewpub in Michigan.”

The proposed beer tax, like most such legislation that grows out of personal moral conviction, is misguided. Lawmakers who are concerned with their constituents’ morality should consider leaving the Legislature and entering the ministry.