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‘Sin tax’ hike makes sense

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By Optic Editorial Board

Pardon the pun, but Wendy Armijo, county coordinator for the DWI Task Force, offered up some sobering statistics last week. At a San Miguel County Commission meeting, she cited state Department of Health data that alcohol consumption costs New Mexico $2.8 billion, or $1,400 per resident, for the property damage (automobile crashes), criminal justice, health care and lost productivity it causes.

With stats like that, it would be hard to oppose an increase in the sales tax on alcohol, and understandable that the County Commission would vote to support legislation to that effect.
House Bill 212, sponsored by Rep. Edward Sandoval, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Steven P. Neville, R-Aztez, would give individual counties the local option of increasing its own “sin tax” on alcohol sold. If HB 212 is passed and signed into law, and San Miguel County voters approve the local option, the increase would go from 4 cents per bottle of beer (which is currently the statewide tax) to 6 cents per bottle, and 7 to 11 cents per glass of wine or mixed drink. The tax hike would also be applied to package liquor sales.

Revenue from the tax increase would then go into alcohol and substance abuse prevention efforts.

We agree with Armijo and the commissioners that this is a reasonable increase — especially since its impact is on drinkers only, with the bulk of the increase being paid by the heaviest of drinkers.

As Armijo pointed out to commissioners, the added revenue would go into efforts to reduce the number of drunken drivers. That’s one of the biggest public safety issues of our time, and the more money we have to combat it, the better.

According to an analysis from the state Attorney General’s office, if the local option tax were to be adopted in all 33 New Mexico counties, $26 million would be generated. That’s a lot of money to go into preventative measures.

Also according to the AG, about 5 percent of all drinkers are hard-core — they consume nearly half of all alcohol (with an average of 11 beers per day — while another 20 percent are heavy drinkers who consume most of the rest.

It only makes sense that they would pay exponentially more than the other 75 percent of the drinkers, and that non-drinkers wouldn’t be paying a dime into this revenue stream.
We think commissioners are wise to be supporting HB 212, and if it’s passed voters shouldn’t hesitate to pass the local option.