Gothamist: Assemblyman From NYC Wants To Double Beer Tax To Pay For Public Colleges

A New York politician wants to increase the state tax on beer in order to help fund CUNY and SUNY schools.

State Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, who represents a district filled with some of Manhattan’s drinkiest nabes such as the Lower East Side and Murray Hill, has proposed increasing the state tax on beer from 14 cents a gallon to 30 cents. The increase would translate to about another 1.4 cents per bottle of beer, according to Epstein, and could generate as much as $51 million annually. His bill would devote the new revenue to funding CUNY and SUNY schools.

“According to the Tax Foundation, New York has one of the lowest beer taxes in the country,” Epstein’s bill said. “This bill raises the beer tax to the same level of the state’s modest wine tax of $0.30 per gallon, bringing it in line with the majority of other states’ beer taxes and providing a revenue stream for the State University of New York and the City University of New York.”

“When people go shopping and people buy clothes and do anything in our state, there’s a tax associated with it and the same thing applies to alcohol,” Epstein said in a phone interview.

Epstein said he has not personally spoken to either chancellors of the SUNY and CUNY systems about the proposal. Calls for comment from the universities were not immediately returned.

The Beer Institute trade association in D.C. declined to comment on Epstein’s proposal, though the American Craft Beer industry wrote on its website: “Thankfully the legislative reaction to the beer tax increase proposal appears to be muted at best.”

Epstein introduced the bill on December 30th and said he does not yet have a sponsor in the Senate or any reaction from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is a big proponent of the state’s breweries (and distilleries and wineries).

Cuomo sponsored the state’s Craft New York Act in 2014, which helped expand the alcohol industry in the state. And today Cuomo unveiled booze-friendly elements of his upcoming State of the State Address, including another proposal to allow all movie theaters to sell beer, wine, cider, spirits and mead to adult customers. Current law only allows movie theaters equipped with full kitchens and tables inside the screening rooms to sell alcohol.

But don’t think you’ll be allowed to tip one back at Frozen 2 — the proposal is aimed at adult viewers of movies PG-13 and up.

“New York now ranks in the top five in the U.S. for its number of craft beverage producers in every category. The state ranks first in U.S. for the number of hard cider producers, second in craft distillers, third in breweries, and fourth in the country for the total number of wineries,” Cuomo bragged in a press release.

If Epstein gets his way, those craft beers ingested in the future boozy movie theaters around the state will help pay for a few college educations.

“I think we need a dedicated funding stream for higher education. And this is just one that I’m proposing,” Epstein said. “We believe in higher education, ensuring that people have a pathway to a better tomorrow.”