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Could beer get taxed to help keep state inmates lock up?

Published July 20, 2011 10:16 pm

Corrections • Five cents of every 12-ounce beer would go to incarceration costs.
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A plan is brewing to make beer drinkers help to keep prison inmates locked up — and there is a chance it could mean a nickel-a-beer tax increase.

For years, county sheriffs have complained that they have to fight to get the Department of Corrections to incarcerate state prison inmates in county jails.

On Wednesday, Reed Richards, with the Utah Sheriffs Association, floated an idea: earmarking five cents of the state's beer tax for the county jails to make sure Corrections has the money to send inmates to the counties.

"The concept is that … a five-cent increase on a 12-ounce beer is pretty small, particularly when it solves a problem created by over-drinkers," Richards said.

The sheriffs and Utah Association of Counties floated a tax increase of five-to-10 cents per 12-ounce beer last session, but it didn't get traction with lawmakers wary of a tax hike.

But Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, an advocate of the funding for county jails, said he could support the proposal if it simply earmarked$11 million from the beer tax in place of $11 million general tax revenues now appropriated each year by the Legislature.

That way it would be revenue neutral, and not raise taxes, Noel said.

Richards likes the swap, but if the earmark can't be made to work with existing funds, he said sheriffs would support a tax increase, essentially adding to the beer tax and earmarking that additional portion.

Numerous counties across the state built new, spacious prisons with plans to lease out beds to incarcerate state inmates and, in the process, make some money to help pay construction costs.

But funding for those beds has been sporadic, causing sheriffs heartburn and forcing them to look for more stable funding.




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