Wyoming Tribune Eagle
CHEYENNE — A bill that would have essentially doubled the state’s excise tax on alcohol in order to provide more funding for substance use treatment programs was rejected by lawmakers during a committee meeting Wednesday.
The bill would have brought in more than $2 million annually to the state, with the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health evenly splitting the funds for various mental health and substance use programs.
But members of the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee rejected the bill, which would’ve changed the excise tax for the first time since 1935, by a 7-6 vote.
“We don’t need to be taxing one group of people,” Rep. Clarence Styvar, R-Cheyenne, said. “I said it last year when they tried to raise the tobacco tax, and I feel the same way about this: No new taxes.”
Mike Moser, spokesman for the Wyoming State Liquor Association, said the tax was unfair for those who drink safely.
“We’re asking responsible consumers of alcohol, the vast majority, to back the law and force them to pay for people with mental health issues ... and substance abuse treatment, when so many of these substance abuse cases don’t have anything to do with alcohol,” Moser said.
Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, argued the bill would send a message from the state that alcohol is bad.
“How can the government be the one that sells the alcohol, then comes back and takes the tax, as well ... that’s almost delivering the problem and then having the solution,” Bouchard said.
Yet others felt the problem would remain intractable without more funding. Andrea Summerville, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers, noted Wyoming’s high suicide rates as evidence of the continuing substance problems facing Wyoming.
“Alcohol is still the number one substance use disorder that’s diagnosed in the United States,” Summerville said.
Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, who spearheaded the bill, said it aimed to address the risk associated with drinking alcohol, citing a statistic that 8% of people who drink alcohol eventually seek treatment.
“We decided as a society 90 years ago when we repealed Prohibition that that was a risk our society was willing to run,” Scott said. “But it is still a risk, and somebody has to pay for the problems of picking up the pieces when somebody is on the losing side of that risk.”
Other committee members worried the $2 million generated by the tax increase could cause the Joint Appropriations Committee to divert other funding for substance use programs toward other areas.