Utah may be known for "watered down" 3.2 percent alcohol beer. But lawmakers continued Tuesday watering down a bill that started out as a tax hike on all alcoholic beverages, then only on beer, then contained no tax hike at all.
Now most of the original intent of the bill has also disappeared, with only a faint foamy whiff of the bill's secondary purpose still remaining.
The Senate Business and Labor Committee unanimously passed HB40 after diluting it yet again and sent it to the full Senate. The bill earlier called for at least 10 percent of all beer-tax revenues to be spent on drinking abuse-prevention programs, but the committee removed that.
The bill now merely instructs local governments which receive 40 percent of the state beer tax that the Legislature intends them to use it to "fund a balanced approach" to reduce substance abuse, binge drinking and underage drinking. It makes no mandates.
Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, started out last year trying to raise taxes on beer, wine and spirits by 4.62 percent, intending to cut consumption and direct that funds be used to beef up prevention programs that target binge and underage drinking. But Utah conservatives dislike tax hikes as much or more than abusive drinking.
When Draxler's original bill failed, he changed it this year to try to make beer taxes rise automatically with inflation. After opposition, he abandoned that to require merely that at least 10 percent of the beer tax go to prevention programs. That passed the House by a wide 64-6 margin.
But senators gagged on the idea of requiring cities and counties to use a certain percentage of the tax for prevention. To get HB40 through the Senate committee, Draxler was forced to dilute it so that it simply instructs local officials to use the money in a balanced manner.
Cities and counties currently spend only 4 percent of their share of the tax on prevention programs, using the rest for such things as prosecution of drunken driving, DUI check points and DUI incarceration costs.