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They found my niece dead three months ago today. Alone in her apartment from a fall, caused by heavy drinking. She had been through treatment over the years, but like so many others, it wasn’t long enough to really remedy her pain that brought her to drink again. She was a sweet, sensitive and smart young woman who had learned to disguise from most of us, her drinking problem. For the over 2,000 people each year who die from alcohol related causes in New Mexico, we start a new year to count, and likely increase, the number of the friends and relatives who we will mourn.
It doesn’t have to be this way! For a mere 25 cents per drink excise tax, we can raise nearly $200 million dollars which can be used for prevention and treatment programs that will make a difference. The policy of increasing alcohol taxes, considerable research shows, is in itself a deterrent to underage drinking and reduces consumption by excessive and heavy drinkers.
The toll one drink has on our state is $3.74 in health care costs, lost wages, damages, etc., for a total cost of $2.2 billion annually, or over $1,000 for every person in New Mexico.
This isn’t a regressive tax, 48 percent of us don’t drink at all. Those who are excessive or heavy drinkers by income levels would see proportional increases, from $54 for those with an income of $25,000 or less to $63 for those with incomes greater than $75,000 annually, and it would provide more services for those at the lower income levels, making it a progressive tax.
Other policy changes can be made too, but raising the liquor excise tax, which hasn’t been done for 30 years, is the most immediate and effective solution we have to start saving the health and lives of our friends and family: A small price to pay, and one many of us would trade to have our loved ones back. The reduction in consumption will help reduce domestic violence, sexual assaults, homicides and all the alcohol-related health issues seen over time.
After meeting with the craft brewers and listening to other legislators that support their local businesses, it seems like the exception for lower excise tax has made sense. Their products are higher priced and not usually what heavy or binge drinkers would consume in order to be intoxicated. An increase to adjust for inflation that is approximately twice the low one-cent per drink to two-cents per beer would seem reasonable to ask for microbrewers to contribute to offsetting the terrific costs to our state. We are now planning a 15-cent per drink increase for all other alcohol wholesalers, so we can save lives, and improve the health and safety of New Mexicans.
Call or email your Legislators to support HB230 and SB259 the Liquor Excise Tax Increase and Alcohol Harms Reduction Fund. We need these bills to be considered in both chambers’ tax omnibus package this session.
Rep. Joanne Ferrary