Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tead Off?

Everyone knows that today is Tax Day. And unless you've been living under a rock (or getting your news solely from traditional media sources) you have probably heard about the many "Tea Parties" taking place today across the fruited plain. While I understand the motives behind those participating and hope they get an impressive turnout, I find myself ambivalent about the whole Tea Party movement (if it can yet be described that way).

Perhaps it's the natural conservative inclination to view protests in general with a skeptical eye, especially regarding their efficacy. In regard to the Tea Parties in particular, I'm still struggling to grasp what they're really about and what they really hope to achieve. I understand that people are mad as hell and they're not gonna take it anymore. However, it's not clear to me exactly what they're mad about and what they're not gonna take anymore. Is it bailouts? Spending? Tax increases? Expansion of government control? All of the above? None of the above? Some of the above?

The answer may be that this just the beginning and that as various groups and individuals continue to coalesce together, a more coherent and defined message about issues and aims will emerge. But right now I wonder how all this is going to play to the majority of Americans standing on the sidelines. Will they dismiss the Tea Party protesters as nothing more than a bunch of freaks in tricorne hats or will they consider that maybe there's a message there that they need to consider? Given the way the media is sure to cover the events, I expect far more of the former reaction.

Another problem with the Tea Parties is the name itself. Yes, I understand that they're trying to recapture the revolutionary spirit of the famous 1773 Boston Tea Party. But you gotta admit "Tea Party" is not a name that naturally conveys action or inspires interest. Dude, what are you doing tonight? Going down to the capitol to attend a Tea Party. Okay, well have fun with that.

And the original Tea Party was a direct act against British attempts to tax tea that the colonists felt violated their rights. Today, no one is proposing to increase taxes on tea (at least as far as I know) and even if they did, the reaction would likely be far more muted. While many Americans still drink tea at least occasionally (including yours truly), the beverage does not play nearly as prominent role in American life as it did during the colonial era.

But there are present attempts to tax other drinks. Drinks that Americans will likely get far more excited about showing up at a rally in their name. From an editorial in today's WSJ called This Tax Is for You:

Today is the dreaded April 15, but at least in Oregon it's even going to cost you more to drown in your tax sorrows. In their sober unwisdom, the state's pols plan to raise taxes by 1,900% on . . . beer. The tax would catapult to $52.21 from $2.60 a barrel. The money is intended to reduce Oregon's $3 billion budget deficit and, ostensibly, to pay for drug treatment.

If it passes, Oregon will overnight become the most taxing state for suds, one-third higher than the next highest beer tax state, Alaska. The state may do this even though Oregon is the second largest microbrewery producer in the U.S. The beer industry and its 96 breweries contribute 5,000 jobs and $2.25 billion to state GDP. Kurt Widmer of Widmer Brewing Co. says the tax would 'devastate our company and small breweries throughout the state.' Adds Joe Henchman, director of state projects at the Tax Foundation, 'This microbrewery industry has gravitated to Oregon in part due to low beer taxes.'

Get your grubby taxing paws off my Widmer Original Drifter Pale Ale! See, now that's how you get people mad as hell.

For Oregon to enact punitive taxes on its homegrown beer industry makes as much sense as Idaho slapping an excise tax on potatoes or for New York to tax stock trading. Even without the tax increase, taxes are the single most expensive ingredient in a glass of beer, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild.

But Democrats who run the legislature are desperate for the revenues to help pay for Oregon's 27.9% increase in the general fund budget last year. If they have their way, every time a worker steps up to the bar and orders a cold one, his tab will rise by an extra $1.25 to $1.50 a pint. Half of these taxes will be paid by Oregonians with an income below $45,000 a year. Voters might want to remember this the next time Democrats in Salem profess to be the party of Joe Six Pack.

How many Joe Six Packs are really going to show up for anything as fey sounding as a "Tea Party" anyway? But if you called it a "Beer Party" you'd have to keep people away with sticks. Sure, there might be a little confusion about what they really were getting into, but that confusion is just an opportunity for education. And, unlike the original Tea Party, there isn't a chance in hell that Americans are going to destroy something as precious as beer as a form of protest. But instead of throwing our beer into the harbor, what if we drank it instead? (chug, chug, chug) Just try taxing this now, Governor!

So go on and enjoy yourself at a local Tea Party today. But think about how much better it would be if we called it a Beer Party.

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