Archive for Sunday, November 30, 2003

Higher tax may follow Sunday sales

November 30, 2003


— Some legislators hope to repeal the state's ban on Sunday liquor and beer sales, but others now see an opportunity to bargain for higher taxes on alcohol to raise money in tight budget times for education and other programs.

That prospect is not something for managers like Joe Giffin to celebrate just as his 99 Beers store in Wichita enters the biggest season for wine and champagne sales.

Giffin, who already has mixed feelings about Sunday sales because he likes having the day off, suggested that new sales on Sunday could be offset by sales lost if legislators increase taxes and, by extension, consumers' costs.

Those who favor allowing cities and counties to authorize Sunday liquor and beer sales think majorities in both legislative houses favor the idea. Yet they couldn't get a bill passed this year, when legislators had strong incentives to deal with the issue.

Last year, Wyandotte County officials concluded that the state's Liquor Control Act did not apply uniformly to all communities, allowing cities and counties to exempt themselves from some provisions, such as the ban on Sunday sales.

Voters there approved Sunday liquor sales. The attorney general's office sued, but a district judge ruled in the county's favor. The case is now pending before the Kansas Supreme Court.

Some legislators worry that if legislators don't rewrite the Liquor Control Act, cities and counties could exempt themselves from the state's legal drinking age of 21, or from its liquor tax laws.

Because legislators didn't pass a bill, communities across Kansas began authorizing Sunday liquor sales this summer and fall, taking the chance that a Supreme Court ruling wouldn't force them to rescind such decisions.

This year, the House passed a bill to rewrite the act and legalize Sunday liquor sales. It stalled in the Senate. Some members opposed Sunday sales, but some senators questioned whether the opposition truly was strong enough to prevent such sales.

"There were a number of senators who felt like it was long overdue to increase, certainly, liquor taxes," said Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood. "They saw this as an opportunity."

Legislators remain under pressure to increase spending on public schools, now at $2.6 billion annually. Some do not believe the Legislature can do so without higher taxes.

"In the great range of taxes, liquor taxes are probably among the least objectionable to the largest number of people," said Sen. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.

But some legislators question whether raising liquor taxes is worth the effort. The state expects to receive $67.7 million from excise taxes on alcohol during its 2004 fiscal year, which began July 1.

The last change in alcohol tax rates came in 1983, and an effort to increase liquor taxes failed in 2002, even though lawmakers raised other taxes by $253 million.

Rep. R.J. Wilson, D-Pittsburg, disagreed that liquor taxes are less unpopular than others, seeing the levies as touching every club goer and beer drinker.

Nor does Wilson believe the state's heritage creates support for high alcohol taxes, even though the Kansas Constitution prohibited the sale and manufacture of intoxicating beverages until 1948.

"Carrie Nation doesn't live here any more," he said. "All you do when you raise liquor taxes is make 90 percent of the people mad, and you don't get any more money for it."

Neither does Giffin at 99 Beers. Faced with higher taxes, Giffin said, some of his customers would buy smaller bottles of wine or cheaper brands of beer. In the Kansas City metropolitan area, he said, consumers would simply cross the Kansas line for cheaper prices in Missouri.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.