Raising taxes to fight underage drinking?

ELKHART, Ind. – This week Elkhart Sheriff’s Deputies responded to call of underage drinking on the 56000-block of Mars Drive and were surprised when they found the culprits.

"Started asking some questions of some kids that were outside playing and they found that a 12-year-old had consumed some alcoholic beverages, in this case wine product,” described Capt. Jim Bradberry of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department.  “This is kind of peculiar, in the fact that this was a younger child."

Even though Indiana was praised earlier this year after a survey found fewer high school students were trying alcohol, some are saying the state needs a boost to help fight underage drinking.  The Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (ICRUD) is asking lawmakers to increase taxes on alcohol sales. 

"Just a modest increase of even five-cents per drink could bring in $145-million that the state could use for prevention and treatment," explained Lisa Hutcheson, Director of ICRUD.

Hutcheson believes Indiana is behind other states, it hasn’t increased its alcohol taxes since 1981.  According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Indiana pays over $1.4-billion dollars to fight underage drinking.

“We just feel like there are a lot of there’s a lot of revenue that we’re missing,” Hutcheson explained.

But, local liquor stores don’t like ICRUD’s plans.

“Any kind of increase in any kind of taxes affects your business and not in a positive way,” explained Mike Russo, owner of Continental Liquors in Elkhart.  “With the way the economy is these days, I can’t even understand them even considering something like that.”

Russo’s owned Continental Liquors for almost 40-years, he’s strict about checking ID’s and keeping on eye on customers.  He believes the problems of underage drinking aren’t necessarily caused by liquor stores selling to minors.

“The way they get it is they either have somebody buy it for them or they pilfer it,” Russo explained.

Russo believes an increase in taxes wouldn’t help the problem and would only hurt the liquor business, which he says shouldn’t be punished for the problem.

“I don’t think it will hurt their business,” Lisa Hutcheson responded.  “Budweiser has raised their own taxes on their own products…it hasn’t stopped anyone from selling it or buying it.”

Hutcheson said raising taxes would discourage underage drinkers from trying to buy alcohol.  But, what she believes is more important, would be taxing adult drinkers to pay for prevention programs that are dwindling as federal funding dries up.  But, Mike Russo doesn’t believe in costly prevention programs.

“If kids want to get it, they’re going to get it,” Russo explained.  “It’s been that way over the years.”

ICRUD submitted their proposal for a tax increase, and increased punishment for supplying alcohol to minors, to the Commission on Mental Health on Tuesday.  Lisa Hutcheson says they plan to urge state lawmakers to raise alcohol taxes in the 2012 legislative session.


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