RE: HB 212 the Liquor Excise Tax Bill

Some of you may have seen the New Mexican editorial today re: HB212, the so-called “liquor excise tax bill.”  As is so often the case in New Mexico party politics, there is more to the story that what the press is reporting.

As a citizen legislator, my first priority is to represent the priorities of the people. Your priorities.   I also realize that to some of you, it may seem like HB212, which I voted against, represents those priorities.

The problem is that HB212 is one of those pieces of legislation that looks good, feels good and sounds good — but ultimately doesn’t do what it promises to do.

I share the urgent concern that I’ve heard from so many in our community about our spiraling DWI and substance abuse problem.  I’m particularly aware of the need to address this problem because substance abuse is a particularly urgent problem in the northern part of the community I represent.

I also understand the strong desire to tax liquor companies to hold them responsible for the damage their product does to our community. But liquor excise taxes don’t hold the liquor industry accountable, any more than gas taxes punish the oil industry or cigarette taxes punish the tobacco industry, because of course, the liquor companies won’t pay those taxes, they’ll just pass it on to the people as a “cost of doing business,”

And finally, I’m also very aware of the unfair and disproportionate amount of political influence the alcohol, tobacco & gambling lobbyists have in our state government. Too many New Mexico politicians are in the pockets of the liquor industry. That’s why I haven’t — and won’t — take any political contributions from the liquor, tobacco or gambling industries (or any other corporate special interests).  My responsibility is to represent the people, not the liquor industry.

Based on my research, I don’t believe that HB212 will be effective at addressing any of the three priorities listed above.

In the past, when liquor excise tax has been attempted as a way to fund substance abuse, the fund has been raided for other purposes. In 1993, for example, only 40% of the money that was supposed to go for substance abuse treatment and prevention actually got used for its intended purpose.

That means 60% of our money, as taxpayers, went somewhere else besides where the people said it should go.  This doesn’t seem right to me — I think that if taxpayers decide that money should go to a specific use, it should go there.  And I think I have a moral obligation not to vote for legislation that won’t do what it promises to do just because it looks good for me to do so.

There is another bill dealing with this issue (HB527) that accomplishes much the same thing as HB212 but in a way that gets the money where it needs to go more quickly — and likely more of it as well.

HB212, the bill I voted against, would mean communities get the much-needed funds in 2015 at the earliest, and possibly as late as 2017 — and even then, there’s no guarantee any of that money would actually go towards substance abuse treatment.  HB527 gets the money to communities July 1, 2014 and could end up bringing double the amount of money to substance abuse programs — and the funds would be guaranteed to get there.  A big difference!

As a citizen representative, I took an oath to do what’s best for our community and to represent the people’s best interests.    That means I’m going to do what politicians won’t do — I’m going to vote against legislation that misleads, deceives and doesn’t serve our community, and I’m going to support legislation that I believe makes our community better.  Because that’s what representative democracy is, I believe, meant to be. A government not for politicians and corporate special interests, but for the people.

RE: HB212 (aka the “liquor tax” bill)

In case any of you saw the article in the New Mexican this morning and are also wondering why I voted against the “liquor tax bill”:

The reason I voted as I did is that there’s another bill introduced (HB527) that brings much quicker relief to counties for alcohol treatment. We all understand this is a huge problem and I want the cities and counties to have the resources to provide treatment and prevention of substance abuse.

HB212 (the bill that failed) would leave it up to voters in November of 2014 to raise taxes. By the time taxes are collected, the counties might start to see these monies in 2015 or 2016. HB527, which was introduced by Rep. Jim Trujillo, the bill I support, would bring much quicker relief and is good government.

I have learned that many excise taxes are collected and then raided and used for something else. As a citizen legislator, I think it is only fair that excise taxes that are collected for a particular purpose should be used for for that purpose.

In the case of the liquor excise tax, about 43 million is collected annually, but only 16 million is used for what it was intended to be used for. HB527 if enacted, would mandate that 75% of the 44 million would go to the treatment and prevention of substance abuse. This would double the monies (32 million) and would be available on July 1, 2013.

As is often (usually) the case in politics, there is more to the story than the press reported…

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