Nickel Fee on Alcoholic Drinks Sought To Fund Trauma Centers
During the special legislative session to address California's projected $21 billion deficit, Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) proposed a five-cent fee on alcoholic beverages to help fund the state's "stressed" trauma centers, the Los Angeles Times reports. Senate Bill 5x would levy on wholesale alcohol distributors a fee of five cents per drink, which the bill defines as 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, 12 ounces of beer or five ounces of wine. While tax increases require a two-thirds majority in the Legislature, lawmakers can raise fees, which cover specific costs of a service, with a simple majority, "giving Romero's measure an advantage in the Democrat-controlled Legislature," the Times reports (Gold/Cardenas, Los Angeles Times, 12/13). Romero said the bill could raise $500 million, which would go toward treating alcohol-related injuries, the Sacramento Bee reports (Hill, Sacramento Bee, 12/13). According to Romero, about 33% of emergencies treated in California emergency rooms are alcohol-related, and alcohol is a factor in 32% of the state's car accidents, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 12/13). "At the end of the year, if there were no alcohol injuries, these dollars would be returned to the alcohol distributors," Romero said, adding that the fee revenue would allow emergency care funds to be spent elsewhere in the system, the Bee reports.
"There's no question there's a nexus between drinking and emergency department use," Anthony Abbate, regional vice president of the Los Angeles office of the Hospital Association of Southern California, said. However, according to Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, households that make under $45,000 drink 50% of the beer in the United States. "The people we are asking to pay the bulk of the tax are the people who can least afford to pay it," Becker said, adding, "The vast majority are not alcohol abusers" (Sacramento Bee, 12/13). However, Romero stated that because the fee would be assessed at the distributor level, it would not be passed on to consumers. Assembly GOP Leader Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) said that the measure was "well-intentioned, but just the wrong approach." In the past, similar bills have not passed the Legislature, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 12/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.