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Home / Articles / News / Local News /  5 Percent Buzzkill
Carol Horwitz
Carol Horwitz thinks those who buy booze should take responsibility for its downsides.

5 Percent Buzzkill

Santa Fe may up its liquor tax

December 17, 2008, 12:00 am
Carol Horwitz swears she’s not trying to be a downer. She just thinks it would be a good idea if you paid more for your booze.

“I’m not like a teetotalling nancy,” Horwitz, the Santa Fe Police Department’s domestic violence and sexual assault liaison, says. “I love a beer with a burrito, and I love a beer with pizza. And if I had to pay an extra dollar or two, I’d be glad to.”

This isn’t an intervention. Really.

Horwitz wrote a resolution supporting the creation of a new local liquor tax, which the City Council passed last week. The tax could raise $2.5 million to fund social services in Santa Fe, Horwitz says.

The tax, as conceived, would add 5 percent to the cost of every bottle of wine, every six-pack of beer and every half-gallon of tequila. That amounts to $1 on a $20 bottle of wine.

“I don’t think I’ve ever bought a $20 bottle of wine,” Horwitz says. “When I buy wine, it’s $3 at Trader Joe’s!”

(If you’re still counting, the additional tax on Charles Shaw’s finest $3 vintage would come to 15 cents.)

Before such a tax could take effect, the New Mexico Legislature, which convenes Jan. 20, would have to change state law to allow counties to adopt their own liquor taxes; then, the tax would have to win support from a majority of Santa Fe voters.

Currently, the state’s Local Liquor Excise Tax Act allows only McKinley County to impose its own liquor tax.

If Horwitz isn’t a prohibitionist, then why does she want to raise the cost of a buzz? In her job with the SFPD, Horwitz sees every police incident report and 911 call. And, by her count, more than 70 percent of domestic violence cases in Santa Fe involved alcohol.

The correlation may not be surprising but, to Horwitz, it begs a question: “Why is it that the people who sell alcohol and drink alcohol are not paying for the problems that go along with it?”

So she started gathering supporters. District 2 City Councilor Rosemary Romero, who enjoys a glass of wine with dinner, sponsored Horwitz’s resolution. Other supporters include Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Underage Drinking Prevention Alliance and Impact DWI.

They could also count state Attorney General Gary King as an ally. King has five alcohol-related bills in the works, including one that would allow for all New Mexico counties to impose liquor taxes.

Doesn’t the AG’s office expect a tough fight from the alcohol and restaurant lobby? “It’s hard to say. Sometimes they actually are with us on certain things that they realize are for the safety of the public in general,” AG spokesman Phil Sisneros says. “We certainly don’t want to poison the well, in terms of making them afraid of what’s coming out of our office.”

That’s rather optimistic. The booze dealers don’t need to see King’s tax bill to know how they feel about it—at least according to Fred Ocheskey, a lobbyist who represents the New Mexico Alcohol Beverage Wholesalers Association.

“They’re very much against it,” Ocheskey says.

Ocheskey says the state’s liquor taxes are already some of the highest in the nation, contributing a total of $44 million to the state’s coffers. “It’s getting upward toward $100 million if that thing would pass,” he says. “What it does is just drive purchases out of state.”

Horwitz has anticipated such arguments. “I can’t believe New Mexicans are so stupid they’re going to be pushed around by alcohol lobbyists,” she says.

 

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