Tapped out: Proposed NY beer tax would send funds to SUNY, CUNY

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Advocates for beer industry say its fiscally irresponsible legislation

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Just after the craft beer industry of New York got a big win after a tax exemption was resigned into law, another bill is looking to tax the beer industry as a whole in New York.

The new state bill, introduced by State Assemblyman Harvey Epstein (D-74), aims to double the excise tax on beer.

The bill would increase the current $0.14 per gallon tax on beer to $0.30. The tax is meant to bring the beer tax to the same level as the state’s wine tax.

That tax — according to the bill — would generate about $51 million in “additional revenue that would be split between the State University of New York and the City University of New York.”

Epstein over the phone told News 8 that the tax on beer was a way to create a “dedicated funding stream” to SUNY and CUNY schools to help balance their budgets.

“The infrastructure of our public schools is crumbling,” Epstein said.

He also added that the Excelsior Scholarship only affects a small portion of students that go to public universities.

“We needed to do more to make sure that those who start their education at a public university can afford to be able to finish it,” Epstein said.

He said that the tax revenue would be split proportionally between the two school systems; since SUNY has more students, it would get more funding.

Advocates of craft beer and local beer lovers are concerned that this will particularly affect the craft brewing industry.

“This is not a bill focusing on the craft industry,” Epstein said. “This is a tax on beer across the state. This is not against the craft industry at all, this is just saying for alcohol in general, there’s a cost associated with it, and it needs to support our government.”

He added that the previous tax exemptions are meant to grow the craft industry, but that the beer industry on the whole shouldn’t be left out of paying an equal tax.

Paul Leone, the Executive Director of the New York Craft Brewers Association, rebuts this piece of legislation, saying in an email:

“The assemblyman is quoted as saying we have some of the lowest state excise taxes on beer in the country, that is true, that is also why we are number two in the country in total number of breweries, and in the top five for economic impact. Why would any state legislator think it’s a good idea to slow that down and damage the industry with this extra tax?”

Further adding when asked if this will affect craft breweries more:

“Any tax increase on beer is going to have an effect,” Leone said. “His bill has the financial hit on the distributors, I can tell you for sure that the distributors are not going to absorb that cost, someone will have to pay it which means it will be passed down to the brewers.

“The consumer will only pay so much for their beer, and the price of beer will most certainly have to go up, brewers run on extremely tight margins, they cannot simply absorb this more than doubling of their taxes. This is fiscally irresponsible legislation to go after a successful industry to pay for a budget deficit.”

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