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Bill hiking Utah's beer tax gains preliminary approval

Staff reporter

Purchasing a six-pack from the store may cost beer drinkers additional money in the future. The Utah Senate is considering a bill that will charge a penny a bottle more for the golden liquid as a tax to use for driving under the influence of an intoxicant enforcement and education. If the proposal passes the Utah Legislature, the bill will reportedly result in the first beer tax increase since 1984.

Utah has not enacted an increase in the tax on beer since 1984. During the next couple of weeks, however, the situation will likely change.

On Monday, the Utah Senate gave preliminary approval to hiking the tax on a six pack of the malt beverage by six cents.

The preliminary approval has upset state lawmakers who are not in favor of singling out beer drinkers to pay additional taxes and the future use of the money represents part of the problem.

It seems that year after year the present tax on beer is supposed to be used for driving under the influence of an intoxicant (DUI) enforcement and education. But the revenues have been used for different purposes.

In the last several years, the money has been used to balance the state's red ink budget. The revenues had been spent on various other things in the past.

"The whole idea is really something," commented Senator Mike Dmitrich during an interview Tuesday morning. He is the Utah Senate's minority leader.

On Monday, Dmitrich questioned why the Senate would endorse placing the entire financial burden of taxation for DUI enforcement on Utah's beer drinkers while leaving the individuals who consume wine untouched.

"What is the message we are sending to blue-collar people?" asked Dmitrich, addressing his peers at the Utah Capitol.

Last year, more than $10 million were collected on the existing beer tax and none of the money was used for enforcement or education.

Sponsored by Michael Waddoups, Senate Bill 66 has specific language setting up a special account where the money will be dedicated solely to the state's drunk driving problem.

A second Utah senator is trying to pass an amendment to the bill that require the legislative body to obtain up to a two-thirds majority vote to raid the fund.

Defending the proposed legislation, Waddoups pointed out that beer is the product most frequently consumed by motorists caught driving under the influence and the alcoholic beverage most often involved in getting teenagers into trouble.

"I think it is fair that beer drinkers should take the burden for paying for the costs it inflicts," said the bill's sponsor.

Placing the extra tax on beer would generate more than $2 million per year in additional funding for the state.

A full vote on the beer tax bill will be conducted in a few days after additional debate and consideration.

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