Gov. Rendell says "Triple the beer tax, boys: next round is on you!"

Faced with a budget shortfall of $2.4 billion dollars, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell's reaction has been to increase taxes: a 34% jump in the state income tax, a tax on cell phones, and a tripling of the state excise tax on beer. Rendell proposes raising the state's beer tax from 8 a gallon to 25 a gallon. 

That may sound like mere pennies: in fact, Philadelphia Daily News beer columnist Don Russell (Joe Sixpack) makes light of the tax as such, saying "If you can't afford an extra 56 cents for a case of Coors, you really oughta reconsider your family budget priorities."  

Maybe it's easy to pass off a tax increase when you're working for a paper that flies you to the Playboy Mansion to drink beer,  but Russell missed the boat on this one.

Here's why.

Excise taxes are producer taxes. That means the brewers and importers pay this tax. Do you really think they're going to absorb these costs? Of course not, and why should they? They're going to pass them on to you, after they add their markup. Then the wholesaler's going to add his markup, and the retailer is going to add his markup, and you are going to wind up paying something like a buck and a half more a case, and a quarter more a bottle in bars. But the sad thing is that while we're paying $1.50 more a case, the state's only getting that lousy 56! This tax isn't just unfair, it's stupid!
New York used to have a 25 a gallon beer tax like the one Governor Rendell is proposing. But they don't anymore: now it's 12 a gallon, and a further drop is proposed for this year. Governor Pataki recognizes that excise taxes are unfair and bad for employment, because they focus the tax burden on one industry.
How bad are they? At a 10,000 bbl. a year microbrewery, this tax increase would cost them over $52,000 a year. That's two jobs that they can't create. The increase will cost Yuengling over $6 million. That's a lot of payroll. Why are we punishing a segment of Pennsylvania business that has been successful?
There are attempts to make this increase look long overdue: "This is the first increase in this tax since 1947." So what? Why should there be any increase? Why not a decrease, like they did in New York? In fact, while we're mucking with the tax code, why not do away with it altogether? Proponents of the tax increase say it will bring in an additional $55 million a year. That means the current tax is only bringing in half that amount, about $27 million. If we dropped the excise tax and bumped up the state sales tax just one-quarter of a percent, we'd be way ahead and everyone would be paying a fair share.
THERE'S NO GOOD REASON FOR EXCISE TAXES ANYWAY! Why do we pay extra taxes on beer and liquor at all? We already pay sales tax on it. Why should we have to pay an extra tax just because it's alcohol? 
Anti-drinking groups like MADD and the Center for Science in the Public Interest support increases in these taxes, they say they're needed to pay for enforcement and added healthcare costs. Never mind that research is consistently pointing towards significant health benefits from moderate drinking. Ask yourself this: if these taxes are for what neo-prohibitionists call "the dreadful costs of alcohol," why are the monies raised by these taxes funneled directly into the general fund? Simple: because it's not about paying for enforcement or healthcare costs. It's about an easy political stunt and it's about making it more expensive, more economically painful to enjoy a glass of beer or wine with your dinner. In short, it's about Prohibition.
The people in favor of this tax point to polls that say drinkers agree that beer should be taxed more. Fiddlesticks. Drinkers have been convinced that drinking is bad for you, that drinking is morally suspect, that drinking is something you should be ashamed of. If drinking was good enough for Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, if drinking was good enough for Jesus Christ Himself...don't you think it's good enough for you to have a glass now and then? Drinkers agree because they're good people who want to help out in bad times, and because they've been misled about what this tax means

If times are hard, and a tax increase is really necessary: why not pay for that increase evenly, fairly, justly? Tax all the people, not just the ones who drink. Tax all the businesses, not just the breweries. 

Stand up and be counted. Tell your representatives and Governor Rendell that you are willing to pay your fair share, but that an increase in the beer excise tax isn't fair or smart. There's a sample letter below. Write something like it and send it to your state representatives and to the governor. Make your mark for fairness and equity. 

Lew Bryson wrote to Governor Rendell, State Senator Robert M. Tomlinson, and Assemblyman Matt Wright on April 13. Click on each elected official's name to read their response to this issue. Once you send your e-mail, send any responses you get and we'll put them up here as well.

To e-mail Governor Rendell, your state senator, and your state representative all at once, use's one-stop e-mail service; just put your ZIP code in the the window beside the Governor's picture. Here's a sample letter.



Stop the Pennsylvania Beer Tax is not any kind of organized group: we're not a non-profit organization, and we're not funded by anyone, heck, the website only cost $15. We're just some people who don't like this idea: beer drinkers, brewers, tavern owners.  You can be part of it by simply sending that e-mail to your government representatives. That's all you have to do; that's all we ask. No donations, no private information. Just stand up for tax equity, for your right to enjoy a beer. If you have any questions about this website, contact the guy who wrote it: Lew Bryson. If you'd like to, you can visit my beer website: I'm not paid by brewers or beer sellers: I'm an independent, freelance writer. Thanks, and cheers!