May 2009 E-Newsletter

April 18, 2011

MAKING BIG ALCOHOL PAY FOR ITS DEVASTATION

My proposal to impose a fee on beer, wine, and liquor may have been stopped for this session but that doesn't mean the debate over the alcohol industry's failure to help pay for the $38.4 billion in harm it causes in California is finished.

Despite its setback in the Assembly Health Committee, Assembly Bill 1019 has raised the awareness of alcohol's devastating toll on our society.

As state revenues continue to founder, I believe more and more lawmakers are considering some type of increase on alcohol as part of a budget solution. Levies on beer, wine, and distilled spirits have not been raised in more than 17 years; meanwhile, we have all seen increases in vehicle license fees, and the sales and personal income taxes. In short, taxpayers - including the one-third that don't drink - are picking up the slack for the industry's refusal to pay its fair share.

A Field Poll, released nine days after the committee meeting, showed that voters prefer to balance the budget through spending cuts instead of raising taxes. But while they generally express their distaste for tax increases, an overwhelming majority, 74 percent, told the Field Poll they support raising state alcohol taxes.

The Field Poll has periodically asked voters about raising alcohol levies since 1983 and each time at least 73 percent or more of those surveyed said they backed increasing alcohol taxes. Popular sentiment to raise fees or taxes on booze is unwavering.

AB 1019 would have instituted a per gallon fee on alcohol. This fee would have been levied at the wholesaler level and generated $1.4 billion a year to help pay for the costs of alcohol-related problems such as emergency room and trauma care, law enforcement, treatment and prevention.

As chairman of the Select Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, I've read and listened to evidence that supports the economic importance of prevention and treatment:

  • A UCLA study revealed that for every $1 spent on treatment on substance abuse, taxpayers save $7 in long-range costs.
  • The lifetime costs to care for a person suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can reach $2 million, much of that borne by the taxpayer.
  • Alcohol fuels one of the state budget's biggest cost drivers – prisons. Consider this from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics: "Alcohol use at the time of the offense was commonly found among those convicted of public-order crimes, a type of offense most highly represented among those on probation and in jail. Among violent offenders, 41% of probationers, 41% of those in local jails, 38% of those in state prisons, and 20% of those in federal prisons were estimated to have been drinking when they committed the crime."

The fee levied by AB 1019 on the industry, if passed onto to the consumer, translated to roughly 10 cents a drink. I think only hardcore drinkers - people who need to drink for fun - would oppose this increase. I believe the vast majority of people who drink in moderation agree it's reasonable to impose a fee on an industry that has been insulated from state increases since 1991.

As our state deficit continues to grow, an extra $1.4 billion generated by alcohol fees can help ease cuts aimed at our schools and higher education.

MAY IS NATIONAL FOSTER CARE MONTH

There are 513,000 children nationwide in foster care; almost 14 percent of them live in California.

This month, I ask everyone to stop and remember those children and to recognize the foster parents, caregivers, social workers, advocates, and volunteers who are fighting to improve the lives of youths who were neglected and abused by their natural parents.

During this legislative session, I have introduced Assembly Bill 12, legislation that would extend state foster care benefits to age 21 by tapping available federal funding. With this subsidy from Washington, we can nurture the education and careers of foster care youths who were removed from abusive homes.

About 4,500 of California's 74,000 foster care children are "aged out" annually. Research shows one in four will be jailed within two years of emancipation; 20 percent become homeless. More than half are high school dropouts; only 3 percent get a college degree. Almost half are unemployed at age 21.

The evidence is unassailable: providing a stronger bridge of support to 21 creates more responsible, contributing citizens and saves taxpayers millions in court, prison, and human and social costs.

EQUIPPING KIDS FOR SCHOOL

Yes, the school year is nearly over but it's not too early to help children be prepared for fall classes.

In the Greater Bay Area, 212,695 children qualify for the California Free or Reduced Lunch Program. The Family Giving Tree plans to help many of these students by distributing backpacks filled with useful supplies by partnering with companies in the area.

This year, Family Giving Tree is facing great hardships because of the faltering economy. To furnish enough backpacks, this non-profit organization needs your help. For more information please visit its website here.