Despite complaints from Kansas bar owners and an enforcement moratorium imposed this week by Gov. Mark Parkinson, it’s hard to argue with the apparent intent of a law that requires bars to charge more for drinks that contain more alcohol.
Last week, the Alcoholic Beverage Control division of the Kansas Department of Revenue, announced it would start enforcing a 1986 law the required bars to proportionately increase the price of a drink when they increase the amount of alcohol in the drink. For some reason, ABC officials has never enforced the law, which, according to how it’s figured, is widely ignored by bars across the state.
What legislators apparently had in mind was to eliminate the financial incentive to buy — and consume — larger drinks. If a 10-ounce beer costs $3 (30 cents per ounce), a 14-ounce beer also should cost 30 cents per ounce or $4.20.
It seems pretty simple, but it gets more complicated when you figure in the other costs of serving a drink in a bar or restaurant. According to a representative of the Kansas Licensed Beverage Association, bars actually are complying with the 1986 law. The costs of serving a drink — labor, etc. — don’t rise just because the amount of alcohol in a drink rises. For instance, bar owners can charge twice as much for the alcohol in the drink, but the overall cost of the drink won’t double because it is offset by lower overhead costs.
So much for what legislators may have thought was a straightforward effort to eliminate the financial incentive to consume alcohol.
After the ABC’s announcement, Parkinson waylaid the enforcement order until the Legislature could clarify the statute. Starting enforcement now, he said, could have an adverse impact on many small business owners. (If businesses already are complying with the law, what’s the problem?)
The delayed enforcement may help businesses, but what about the consumers? A Kansas University official pointed out that charging higher prices for larger drinks is a common sense way to discourage alcohol consumption, especially among young people on limited budgets. One of the advantages routinely cited in connection with raising the tax on cigarettes is the deterrent it provides for young smokers.
It probably doesn’t hurt to revisit this statute and find out exactly what legislators had in mind. The review might even prompt changes in the law to clear up or eliminate the “overhead” rationale that businesses are using to justify not raising drink prices in proportion to the amount of alcohol they contain.
Making customers pay directly for the amount of alcohol they consume may provide only a small incentive to drink less, but it’s a step in the right direction.