SCOTTSBLUFF — Members of the Monument Prevention Coalition are continuing their work to reduce underage drinking, but they are also looking ahead to next year’s legislative session as an opportunity could arise in the Legislature to place an additional tax on alcohol.
Lanette Richards, project coordinator, said MPC and other similar organizations across the state have tried for several years to convince state legislators to introduce a bill to increase a tax on the purchase of alcohol.
“Data shows the higher the cost on something, the less accessible it is,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is make it so not so many people drink, especially young adults.”
Richards said now is a good time to approach the topic again because of current issues in the budget.
“Right now, because of big budget cuts in the state and the governor wants lower property taxes, we have a bit going for us there,” she said. “Our revenue is going down and, across the state, they have looked at raising the alcohol and tobacco tax.”
Three years ago, MPC reached out to state senators and had some momentum going, but their work eventually went nowhere. The MPC youth advisory board has recently reached out to senators and meetings are being scheduled to see what options are available.
One of several issues being raised is the underage and excessive use of alcohol when it comes to health.
“We have always looked at the health side of things,” Richards said.
According to the United Health Foundation, Nebraska is the sixth worst state (21 percent of adults) in terms of excessive drinking. Nebraska ranks second worst in terms of self-reported drinking and driving, Richards said.
In an effort to combat this, several groups across the state are proposing a 10 cent tax increase on alcohol.
“We don’t know if it will go anywhere, but we have to try,” she said.
Nebraska’s alcohol excise rates have not changed since 2003, the Tax Foundation said. Based on 2017 gallonage and revenue data from the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, an excise tax increase of 5 cents/drink to 25 cents/drink could result in a projected revenue of $45-225 million.
“Our excise tax is higher than a lot of states, however, this is something we need to look at,” she said.
Richards said when groups across the state began looking at the issue, they focused on beer sales because, in surveys, that’s what students said they used. It was hoped the revenue would go into a fund for treatment and education, but Richards said, if a tax is introduced and passes to become a law, it would go in the general fund.
“It’s better than nothing,” she said. “It’s still a way to be healthy.”