Beer tax lobbyist blunders

Man inadvertently offers free beer to minors in Oregon

Feb 15, 2005 - A lobbyist whose goal is to cut back underage drinking in Oregon ran into a little trouble last week ... for handing out free beer to minors.


Howard Scaman was trying to generate publicity for increasing Oregon's beer tax, primarily as a way to keep alcohol out of the hands of teens. He and others in "Dime A Drink" coalition of activists held a news conference and then visited state representatives' offices to pass out beer. The 12-pack cartons were labeled with $4.99 price tags to illustrate how Oregon's beer tax makes the alcoholic beverage an affordable "gateway" that leads to alcohol abuse problems.

"Most legislators have no idea how cheap beer is," said Scaman, who left a half-case of beer cans with a legislative staff member.

The problem was that many are lawmakers' offices are staffed by interns who aren't yet 21 - which left Scaman open to charges of furnishing alcohol to minors, said Rusty Wolfe, a senior trooper with the Oregon State Police assigned to security in the Capitol.

Rather than cite Scaman, Wolfe made what he called an "educational contact," explaining to Scaman that he must halt the beer giveaway.

Given the Republican-controlled House's aversion to raising taxes, proponents of the new beer "fee" could have as much trouble getting their legislation passed as they did with their publicity stunt.

Scaman, a self-described recovering alcoholic, said he planned to use the same techniques he successfully wielded in his home state of Alaska to lobby for an increase in the beer tax: involving church ministers from an array of conservative, mainstream and liberal denominations to make the case for raising more revenue to help address social ills.

Sen. Bill Morrisette's bill would raise the tax by a dime a drink, but the beer lobby looks at it differently - as a seven-fold increase from the current $2.60 per 31-gallon barrel to about $19 a barrel on beer made by low-volume craft brewers and a jump to $37 per barrel from beer made by large out-of-state beer-makers such as Miller, Coors and Anheuser-Busch. At that rate, Oregon's beer excise would be the highest in the nation.

Paul Romain, lobbyist for the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association, likened the proposed increase to taxing all automobiles because some people speed.