Sarah Mart is the Research & Policy Manager for the Marin Institute.

Assembly Bill 1019, the Alcohol-Related Services Act of 2009, is scheduled for a vote in the Assembly Health Committee on January 5. If passed, it will bring $1.44 billion in annual revenue to help remedy the state’s ongoing budget crisis.

AB 1019 will mitigate the harm caused by alcohol in California by assessing a fee equal to 10 cents a drink on spirits, wine and beer.

The mitigation fee will fund the Alcohol-Related Services Program, five equally funded alcohol-related component services in the following categories: treatment and recovery; emergency and trauma; hospitalization and rehabilitation; criminal justice and enforcement; and prevention, education, and research.

The last time a tax on alcohol was raised in California was 17 years ago, for a penny per glass of wine and two cents per beer or spirits. A couple of cents is not enough. Alcohol-related expenses such as emergency and medical services and criminal justice cost the state $38 billion each year.

In the last two years, several proposals to increase the alcohol tax to pay for public health have been introduced. These potential increases have ranged from 5 cents to a quarter per drink. Governor Schwarzenegger included one in his initial budget proposal a year ago, for 5 cents a drink. 

The general public overwhelmingly supports increasing alcohol taxes and fees, yet lawmakers have yet to get out from under Big Alcohol’s mighty shadow and vote to represent the wishes of their constituents. Eighty-five percent of California residents favored the Governor’s proposal to raise alcohol taxes in January 2009; this percentage included likely voters, Democrats, Republicans, and independents. The alcohol tax increase was the most popular of all of his potential budget fixes.

Similar efforts are underway at the local level to conduct nexus studies of the cost of alcohol-related harm to local cities and counties, and propose mitigation fees to pay for necessary services. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino are among the California communities considering such worthwhile revenue sources.

Despite the support for alcohol tax and fee increases, the alcohol industry currently bears no economic responsibility for the physical, social and economic harm its products cause. Compared to tobacco taxes over the last four decades, California lags far behind in charging the alcohol industry for its related harm.

AB 1019 is an opportunity to charge the alcohol industry for the services local and state governments must provide to address alcohol-related harm. City and county leaders should be aware of these efforts and seriously consider whether charging a mitigation fee to pay for alcohol-related medical, treatment and prevention services would benefit their own communities.

It’s time for the alcohol industry to pay for the harm its products cause us all.

Sarah Mart, MS, MPH
Research & Policy Manager
Marin Institute