Paying more for booze? Lawmakers seek a 3 year surcharge in alcohol tax

Updated: Feb. 6, 2021 at 5:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s liquor industry is opposing a bill that would raise the tax on alcohol.

SB1232 seeks to establish a three-year surcharge on the state’s liquor tax.

The surcharge would tack on roughly 10 cents per drink under the bill, with added costs varying by liquor.

The bill was passed unanimously by the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee on Friday, despite testimony in opposition from the liquor industry which has been hit hard by the pandemic.

“I’ve had to, you know, not pay myself, we’ve had to lay everybody off at at one point, we’ve had so many things happen, where it’s affected everyone’s mental health,” said Owner and Head Brewer of Hana Koa Brewing Co., Joshua Topp. “It’s affected the bottom line, like we’ve had to make really tough financial decisions to just survive.”

“Unfortunately, where we used to have about 700 teammates in the State of Hawaii, we now probably have somewhere around 200, maybe 150, then,” said Garrett Marrero, CEO and Founder of Maui Brewing Company. “So, it’s been sad to see a lot of our teammates go.”

But Committee Chair Roz Baker said the surcharge is a way for the state to bring in some $62 million annually.

Supporters of the bill say it can also make up for the costs of alcohol abuse in the community.

“According to the studies, it shows that by increasing the price, you can decrease the fatalities,” said Carol McNamee, founder of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Hawaii. “I think that makes it a win win, we increase the money and decrease the fatalities and injuries.”

Marrero believes the tax increase won’t stop people from drinking.

“It’s just going to shift their mind from buying local to buying something imported from the mainland that’s much cheaper cost,” said Marrero.

While Marrero and Topp support programs that help people with alcohol abuse, they believe there are also other solutions to helping small businesses like themselves.

For example, a law that would allow small breweries and distilleries to ship direct to consumers.

“It’ll allow for safer consumption, it would allow for people to be able to stay home during the pandemic, instead of feeling like they have to go out if they don’t feel safe,” said Chrissie Pinney, director of operations at Hana Koa Brewing Co.

“If we could do that, we could generate more revenue, which would generate more tax revenue,” said Marrero.

The bill will now be considered in the State Senate’s Ways and Means Committee.

Lawmakers want the surcharge to begin on July 1, and last for three years.

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