STAFF EDITORIAL: Proposed Wis. beer tax more logical than national sugar drink tax

The proposal to raise Wisconsin’s beer tax three cents to curb the state’s binge drinking endemic is a smart one.

The national proposal to raise the tax on Coca-Cola and other sweetened drinks three cents to curb the nation’s obesity endemic is not.

Adding three cents to beer would raise Wisconsin’s revenue to $50 million, according to the Web site of Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison), who proposed the tax.

The money would fund law enforcement and treatment programs for binge drinking — drastically needed in a state that has the highest rate of drunken driving in the nation, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Web site.

The $14.9 billion collected from sugary drinks would help limit consumption of soft drinks leading to obesity — and fund Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-Montana) proposal to overhaul the health care system for $774 billion over 10 years.

However, the sugar tax revenue would only represent a fraction of the expensive health care fund.

Proponents of the bill correctly point out that sweetened drinks lead to obesity, diabetes and other diseases. And they argue taxing these drinks would reduce consumption and slim down the nation’s obesity problem.

However, sugary drinks represent only a small part of the admittedly worrisome obesity problem. Genetics, unhealthy lifestyles and lack of exercise all contribute.

To truly reduce obesity, we should also tax fat, carbohydrates, people who don’t belong to gyms and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Making sugar more expensive just isn’t a wise approach and we’re unclear on the benefits of this extra money.

The beer tax, on the other hand, would not only make beer more expensive for the binge drinker, but would also help raise awareness about the dangers of binge drinking.

In 2008, more than 4,000 people were injured and 234 people killed from alcohol-related crashes in Wisconsin, according the Department of Transportation Web site.

Besides, Wisconsin’s beer tax hasn’t been raised since 1969, and it’s the third lowest beer tax in the country (after Missouri and Wyoming), so it’s time.

For those worried about the cost of drinking: The beer tax would tack on $1.25 a week for those consuming one six-pack per day. It would increase the tax from $2 to $10 per barrel.

The sugar tax won’t significantly reduce obesity, but a higher beer tax could help save lives.