Editorial: Don't pass the burden of passing taxes

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission this week served the Legislature a refreshing shot of push back. The OLCC board rejected a 25-cent-a-bottle increase on distilled spirits.

It was a 3-2 vote.

Some legislators were hoping the increase of $8 million a year in booze taxes would help close the state’s budget hole. Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, a budget writer in the House, was quoted in The Oregonian as saying that it would help cover costs of alcohol abuse.

We sympathize with legislators who now must find other budget solutions. We also admire the reasoning given by one OLCC board member.

There’s nothing that politicians like better than a tax voters find easy to swallow. That’s why they like taxes on booze. There are built-in biases toward raising them.

The OLCC can pass increases without being directly accountable to voters. The members are appointed by the governor, not elected.

There’s no special requirement for super majorities for the OLCC board to raise taxes, such as there is when the Legislature wants to raise revenue.

And taxes on booze are sin taxes. Taxing a “sin” is much easier politically than taxing broccoli. Booze is not only sinful, but it can be a danger to abusers and others.

Some liquor store operators favored the proposed 25-cent increase, because the proposal had an added sweetener. Store operators would share some of the revenue generated. It would be the first time in 10 years their share of the cut was increased, The Oregonian reported.

But read what OLCC board member Bob Rice said about the increase.

“The Legislature is currently in session and has the full authority, power and, I would argue, responsibility to deal with these revenue issues,” Rice said in a phone interview with The Oregonian.

Rice added that four years ago, when the state was in a fiscal crisis, he supported a temporary 50-cent surcharge on booze. The OLCC board recently extended it.

“Now, here we are four years later, and the 50 cents that was for a short-term emergency has become essentially institutionalized in government funding, and I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he told The Oregonian.

If there is truly a need for new taxes, elected representatives shouldn’t look for ways to pass the burden of raising them.