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County backs sin tax measure

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Legislation on booze levy introduced in House

By Martin Salazar

The San Miguel County Commission voted unanimously last week to support legislation pending in the house that would give voters in each county the option of increasing the sin tax on booze. Money generated from the tax would be earmarked for DWI and substance abuse prevention efforts.

Wendy Armijo, the county’s DWI coordinator, said that the tax would only impact the drinker, and the bulk of the money generated from the proposed tax would come from heavy drinkers.

Armijo said the current statewide tax on alcohol is 4 cents on a bottle of beer and 7 cents on a glass of wine and mixed drinks. If House Bill 212 is approved and voters in San Miguel County approve the local option tax, an additional tax of 2 cents would be charged for a bottle of beer and an additional 4 cents would be charged for a glass of wine and mixed drinks. The measure is sponsored by Rep. Edward Sandoval, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Steven P. Neville, R-Aztez.

In response to a question from commission Chairman Nicolas Leger, Armijo said the tax hike would also apply to package liquor sales.

Under current state law, McKinley is the only county that has been given authority to impose a local liquor excise tax. McKinley was known as “Drunk Town, USA” during the ‘70s and ‘80s and was rated as the worst county in the nation for its alcohol death rate, according to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. The AGs office states that less than 10 years after collecting its local liquor excise tax, McKinley County cut its overall alcohol death rate by 50 percent and its DWI death rate by 65 percent.

In explaining the need for the local option tax, Armijo cited state Department of Health statistics that Alcohol consumption results in $2.8 billion in costs to New Mexicans, which breaks down to $1,400 per resident. The cost cited covers everything from property damage due to car crashes, the cost to the criminal justice system, increased health care costs and lost productivity due to lost earnings because of alcoholism.

The local option, Armijo said, would help offset some of those costs.

“The revenue generated in this would help us reduce DWI,” she said. “We definitely could use the revenue generated.”

According to an analysis from the Attorney General’s Office, if the local option tax were to be adopted in all counties, it would raise $26 million to fund direct program services for the prevention and treatment of alcoholism and drug abuse.

According to the AG’s office:

• More than a third of taxpayers would pay no alcohol taxes because 35 percent of adults don’t drink alcohol

• Hard cord drinkers — 5 percent of all drinkers — consume almost half of all alcohol, drinking an average of 11 beers a day.

• Heavy drinkers — an estimated 20 percent of all drinkers, drink 89 percent of all alcohol.

• The average drinker — 60 percent of all drinkers — consumes no more than 3 drinks per week.

• Minors drink 20 percent of all alcohol.