Archive for Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Panel approves liquor tax increase

Legislation would allow Sunday sales, raise $11 million

February 4, 2004


— Cities throughout Kansas would be able to allow liquor sales on Sundays under legislation forwarded Tuesday out of a Senate committee, but the bill also increases taxes on spirits by millions.

The bill now headed for the full Senate would allow cities and counties to approve Sunday sale of alcoholic beverages. But it also includes an $11 million tax increase on beer, wine and alcohol.

The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee endorsed the heavily amended bill after rejecting an even bigger tax proposal and an attempt to allow liquor sales on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, pushed for the tax increase, saying the state needed additional revenue, especially for public schools. He also noted that state taxes on alcoholic beverages haven't increased since 1977.

The proposed increase would raise the per-gallon tax on beer to 30 cents from 18 cents; most wines to 60 cents from 30 cents; fortified wine to $1.50 from 75 cents; and on spirits and alcohol to $4 from $2.50.

For a six-pack of beer, the increase would be about 7 cents.

Vratil said the increases would put Kansas in the midrange of taxes on alcoholic beverages among neighboring states. He said the additional tax on beer would raise $6.7 million; the tax on alcohol and spirits would bring in $3.6 million.

But Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, pushed for a $56 million tax increase, including a nearly 400 percent increase on beer taxes.

Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, said Barnett's proposal would "do some damage" to beer sellers.

"I believe a 388 percent tax increase on anything is pretty onerous," she said.

But Barnett defended the increases, saying the tax levels were "so low to begin with." His tax amendment was defeated.

Later, Barnett tried again to amend the bill with a dram shop provision, which would have held servers of alcoholic beverages liable if their customers got drunk and hurt someone in an accident. But that failed, too.

Committee Chairman Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to allow alcohol sales on the three holidays. But Barnett lobbied against that proposal, saying it would lead to more highway fatalities during those long weekends.

After battling over a number of amendments, the committee finally recommended approval of the bill, 5-3. Sens. Donald Betts, D-Wichita, Mark Gilstrap, D-Kansas City, and Vratil, O'Connor and Brungardt voted for the measure. Sens. Bob Lyon, R-Winchester, Stan Clark, R-Oakley, and Barnett voted against it. Sen. Ruth Teichman, R-Stafford, abstained. Teichman had voted on the earlier amendments but said she abstained on the final version of the bill because she hadn't made up her mind on Sunday sales.

The legislation is aimed at making uniform laws governing alcoholic beverages so cities and counties could not opt out.

Several cities -- mostly along the border with Missouri, where Sunday sales are legal -- have passed Sunday sales ordinances in the 16 months since a Wyandotte County district judge ruled the liquor law act was not uniform. The state's appeal of that ruling is before the Kansas Supreme Court.

Under the bill endorsed Tuesday, local governments could decide whether they wanted Sunday sales, but voters could have their say if at least 10 percent of those who voted in the previous general election signed a petition opposing Sunday sales.

Other sections of the bill would allow cities to pass liquor ordinances more restrictive than the state's laws and require a quarterly compliance check of businesses that sell alcohol.

The alcohol bill is SB 305.

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