Excise Tax: Not a Four-Letter Word

The Texas Legislature is spending the next few months grappling with a massive budget and considering thousands of pieces of legislation.

Technically, their only job is to balance our state’s multi-billion-dollar budget. (Considering thousands of pieces of legislation is “extra.”) And despite a surplus this year, many battles will be waged in Austin about where and how to cut or raise spending.

From property taxes to an increase in gas taxes, there are countless ways the state can raise money – but few of them can also claim to save the lives of Texans.

Raising the state’s alcohol excise tax can do both. The excise tax is a tax on alcohol sales that historically existed to raise revenue for public purposes and to reduce alcohol consumption and its related public health harms.

Alcohol excise taxes in Texas haven’t budged in nearly 35 years; they aren’t tied to inflation or population, so they don’t rise as inflation and population grow. As a result, they have lost more than half of their value and are considered a poorly performing revenue source for Texas – if they’re even considered at all.

However, the price of alcohol is a powerful determinant in how and how much young people drink. Increasing alcohol excise taxes is one of the single biggest steps we can take to prevent underage and risky alcohol consumption, as well as its associated consequences.

Studies show that increasing alcohol excise taxes by as little as a dime a drink would save hundreds of lives, prevent thousands of young people from binge drinking, and generate more than $700 million for Texas every year. (That would equal $1.4 billion for the current biennial budget the Legislature is balancing.)

Furthermore, 25% of alcohol excise tax revenue automatically goes toward education. Just a dime a drink increase would mean an additional $177 million for public education every year. It also means we could help provide funding many Texas schools need without having to rely as heavily on local property taxes to fill education funding gaps.

What’s even more good news is that 65% of Texans support increasing the alcohol excise tax to improve public education and safety in our state. Our Legislature can play a role in reducing underage drinking and its related problems while raising millions for Texas.

We’re asking the Legislature to consider an increase in alcohol excise taxes while they are in session, and we’ll be using our Advocacy Day as a critical platform for talking to lawmakers about the benefits of raising the excise tax in Texas.

If you haven’t signed up for Advocacy Day yet, please register today so you can join us in Austin on February 19! You’ll be able to receive training and educate lawmakers on the issues we’re tackling to help us build safe, drug-free communities for generations to come.

A Look Ahead: The 86th Legislature

On January 8, 2019, Texas lawmakers will gather in Austin for the 86th Legislature – a 140-day session designed to pass our state’s budget for the coming 2020-2021 biennnium, as well as hundreds (or possibly thousands) of new laws.

Here at Texans Standing Tall, we’ll be tracking legislation that relates to our mission: to make our communities safer, healthier, and drug-free for Texas youth. As we do every legislative session, we’ll focus on policies that most directly connect to our primary goal of preventing drug use among youth. In this role, we’ll specifically be monitoring:

  1. Powdered Alcohol, or Palcohol. This product, alcohol in powdered form, is appealing to youth because the kool-aid-like packaging makes it easy to conceal.  Nearly 40 states have already banned powdered alcohol, and the American Medical Association (AMA) announced that it supports state and federal laws banning it in the United States because the product could “cause serious harm to minors.” We’ll be working to ensure powdered alcohol does not make it onto shelves in Texas
  2. Alcohol Excise Taxes. Increasing alcohol excise taxes saves lives and raises money for the state. Excise tax funds are a significant source of revenue for governments and an area of opportunity for those facing budget deficits. In Texas, alcohol excise taxes have not been raised since 1984. Yet increasing our alcohol excise tax by as little as a dime a drink would save 402 lives, prevent more than 27,000 youth from binge drinking alcohol, and generate $708 million for Texas every year.
  3. Raising the Legal Purchase Age of Tobacco to 21. Across the country, numerous cities and two states (Hawaii and California) have enacted policies that raise the legal minimum age for sale of all tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21. According to conservative estimates, if raising the tobacco sale age to 21 was adopted throughout the U.S., it would prevent 4.2 million years of life lost to smoking in youth alive today. You can learn more from our friends over at texas21.org.
  4. Tobacco Prevention and Control Funding. As it stands, Texas spends only 3.9% of the $268 million the CDC recommends on tobacco prevention. Currently, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) funds 6 counties in the state to implement comprehensive, community-based tobacco prevention and control. As a result, these Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalitions (TPCCs) have been able to create change by mobilizing local citizens to help pass smoke-free ordinances in their communities, educating youth on the harms of smoking, and helping current smokers quit through education on and referrals to the Quitline. At TST, we’ve worked with numerous cities and counties on their efforts to make their cities smoke free; in the Rio Grande Valley alone, more than a dozen cities are now smoke free. However, statewide funding is imperative to make sure TPCCs can continue their work to prevent young people from smoking, help current smokers quit, and create smoke-free air for all Texans.
  5. Efforts to legalize marijuana. As policies regarding medical and recreational marijuana use change throughout the country – and possibly in our state – we’ll be following the issue in order to address various public health and safety concerns that may arise.

If you are interested in advocating for these issues and more, join us for our Advocacy Day in Austin on February 19th. This fun and educational day brings together youth and adult prevention advocates from across the state to raise awareness on public health issues at the Texas Capitol. We hope you’ll join us – and bring a few friends! To learn more and register for the event, click here.