Hey, we are talking California here, so my guess is… both!
Via LAist, I read of a ballot initiative calling for a new tax hike on all alcoholic beverages sold in the state. Now at first blush this seems to be a reasonable subject of discussion. California’s finances make a train wreck look like a precision drill team. The state’s bonds are now considered to be the same quality as Iraq’s. Now, I’ll try to avoid getting too heavy here into how to fix the bankruptcy, but clearly, some combination of increased revenues and/or reduced spending will have to happen. I will note that the state is already hemorrhaging taxpayers, so tax increases may not really be such a good idea. Beyond that, California, heal thy self!
But this brings me back to the Alcohol-Related Harm and Damage Services Act of 2010 (pdf). This little piece of political performance art calls for a modest increase in the price of all booze sold in the state. Seems reasonable, at least if you buy into the whole raising taxes will help school of “thought”.
But did I say modest?
- A six dollar six-pack of beer would now pop for twelve. That’s double.
- A $14.95 bottle of vodka would after passage cost $31.87! A 113% increase.
- A bottle of Two Buck Chuck ($1.99) would soon cost $7.10. Try a 250% pop.
The claim is that this would raise between seven and nine billion annually. This is a mighty appealing number to a state which is digging it’s hole deeper at the clip of 20 billion a year. Of course, the tax won’t actually raise that much. It’ll send allegedly productive citizens of the state like RumDood (whose Twitter feed brought me this monstrosity) screaming into the protective arms of somewhere like Texas. And those who can’t leave the state will just drink less. A lot less.
And that, of course, is the real purpose of this ballot initiative. It’s Prohibition via the tax code. The actual text of the initiative is almost completely taken up with a litany of the Evils of Drink™. (Most of the rest is spent detailing the massive additional paperwork and collection burden to be placed on retailers) The revenue allegedly to be created will not patch any portion of the hole in the general fund either. It will instead be automatically appropriated to the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. (Resulting in a 1000% increase in funding for that department. I smell a wild Christmas party at the DADP!)
Would this tax actually mean an end of booze consumption in the Golden State? No, but it would certainly result in a massive reduction in consumption, as well as a huge disruption in patterns of drinking and commerce.
No truer words were ever spoken than “the power to tax is the power to destroy”. And baby, a tax like this would destroy. California’s wine industry, already teetering atop a popping bubble, would implode, bars and restaurants would shutter, as would grocery and package stores.
The prohibitionists would point out that fat cats at Big Booze, who make their money off of human misery, deserve their comeuppance. And this makes sense to me, of course. Why, when my mind pictures all those soon-to-be justly unemployed grape pickers and beer truck drivers showing up to work each day chuckling evilly about how they are profiting unspeakably at the hands of the drinking rubes, it makes my blood boil! How about you? And of course this massive additional unemployment would help with the Demon Rum problem too, since permanent unemployment never leads to substance abuse issues.
Now, I called this political theater not only because it is Prohibition, masquerading as a money grab, masquerading as fiscal discipline, but also because it likely has no chance in Hell of garnering the 433,971 signatures it needs to even get on the ballot. The idea for the kabuki dancers pushing it is to put out their indictment of alcohol in the public eye, and maybe collect the names of a bunch more people for the Gullible Rubes Who’ll Sign Anything database. But since the level of stupidity of California voters has been demonstrated in oh so many ways these last decades, I can’t be completely confident.
UPDATE: Jacob Grier has a similar, though less
rambling entertaining, take on this issue. He contributes some good additional insight into what might be the actual, nefarious design behind this initiative, using the Overton Window.