Students rally against wine availability, support tax

Andrew Pritchard

Lawmakers who want to have a drink after a long budget negotiation will pay a little more if they pass a bill supported by some Democrats and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

High school students from across the state rallied Friday at the State Capitol to support a 10 cent per drink alcohol tax increase and called on legislators to reject a proposal to legalize wine sales in grocery stores.

“As past research has clearly shown, allowing wine sales in grocery stores will increase the availability of alcohol to youth,” high school student Sam Swanberg said.

Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-Fridley, said legislators should defeat the wine sale plan – known as “Wine with Dinner” – sponsored by the Minnesota Grocers Association.

“Wine in grocery stores harms our young people and harms Minnesota and our economy,” she said to the approximately 130 students who attended the rally. “I want to make sure you have access to your future and not more access to alcohol in Minnesota.”

Youth in Action, the student lobbying arm of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, unveiled the results of a national survey conducted by the University’s Alcohol Epidemiology Program.

The study found 80 percent of Minnesotans believe liquor stores and bars are not careful enough about preventing alcohol sales to minors and 75 percent of Minnesotans said they support a 5 percent alcohol tax increase to pay for programs to reduce teenage drinking.

For these questions, the survey has a 2 percentage point margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level.

‘Dime a Drink’

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said he supports YIA’s “Dime a Drink” proposal to fund alcohol prevention, treatment and law enforcement programs.

“Most of our inmates are in prison for crimes they committed under the influence of alcohol or other drugs,” he said.

Marty said the “Dime a Drink” plan would shift alcohol’s costs to the state onto those who drink.

“Those of us who drink alcohol realize there are great costs caused by it,” he said.

But Marty and Bernardy both said they anticipate opposition from liquor stores and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has pledged to solve the state’s budget crisis without raising taxes.

Pawlenty press secretary Leslie Kupchella said the governor would veto the dime increase if it reached his desk.

“We would definitely not support such a tax,” she said.

Marty said although his plan is a tax, he views it as a user fee to cover alcohol’s costs to the state.

“This is a user fee where the industry should pay, not the property or income taxes,” he said. “But I’m sure (Pawlenty) will call it a tax.”

The Minnesota Grocers Association did not respond to requests for comment Friday, but the organization’s members have pledged to support a 10-point code of conduct, including training employees to spot fake identification, conducting self-compliance checks and creating theft prevention plans.

MGA executive director Nancy Christenson said November polls show a majority of Minnesotans supporting wine sales and the number of strong supporters increasing 35 percent in two years.

The bill was defeated in committee during last year’s legislative session.

Andrew Pritchard covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]