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A higher beer tax is just plain un-American

I'm going to get political. Don't run away.

We face a state budget crisis the likes of which we have not seen in a generation.

At the very least, schools are cutting days, with some perhaps closing for good. Teachers are losing their jobs. The children are cheering their way to jobs at Burger King and Wal-Mart.

Police and fire departments are facing severe cuts and most likely layoffs. Sex offenders and meth monsters are laughing and popping bottles of champagne.

The infrastructure is crumbling. Colleges such as the University of Oregon are considering raising their already brutal tuition fees to cover losses.

Say good-bye to competing on the global stage of ideas and critical thinking once we muddle through this recession.

Hello, Mr. China, do you want fries with that?

Amidst this agony what plan has our Legislature — the brightest minds scooped from the public and private schools across this great land, the top of the heap, our leaders and caretakers — devised to stave off disaster?

Increasing the beer tax.

That's it, folks. Aside from leaving it to schools and emergency agencies to fend for themselves while they wait for that fat Obama check that will last until the next budget apocalypse next year, our leaders in Salem have offered this one tangible idea to create revenue.

Increasing the beer tax.

Lawmakers have proposed raising the tax from $2.60 per barrel to $49.61. That's about an 1,800 percent hike in brew, if you care to know.

Lawmakers say that amounts to 15 cents more per 12-ounce glass. The beer industry is saying that could raise the price of a pint by $1.50.

That pushes a pint of Worker's Pale Ale to about, oh, $6. That makes it nearly $3.75 for a pint of Pabst. Four bucks for a PBR?

Maybe this is all part of the master plan to turn this heathen land of hippies and survivalists into a model Puritan state. After all, drug and alcohol treatment centers have been slashed over the past several years and will no doubt take it on the chin yet again during this budget horror show.

Might as well make it too expensive to drink. There's nowhere to treat the alcoholics anyway.

The major flaw in this reasoning is that the people of Oregon in most need of government help, small business owners, are the targets of this madness.

Most Oregon brewers started small and have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to create world-famous brands such as Deschutes, Rogue, BridgePort and Widmer. They employ skilled brewers and pay them a living wage to craft a product that has brought no small measure of attention to this state.

The Legislature gives lip service to the value of Oregon's small business owners, but seemingly only those who open Ashland craft stores that hawk cheesy Buddhist crap to tourists or high-end restaurants who pay their employees minimum wage to serve over-priced Pan-Asian food to said tourists.

Sorry local brewer, but your services are not needed here. Why not try applying for a Jack In the Box franchise? Or even better, a Denny's?

The other side of this coin is the hit bar owners — there's that small-business thing again — will suffer when a population facing 10 percent unemployment can no longer wander down to the local watering hole once a week to catch a game and enjoy a brew.

I'm not against raising the beer tax a little to help schools and police make ends meet. Hey, everybody's going to have to pull their weight, but an 1,800 percent increase is cruel and unusual.

I'm not sure if it's smart policy to pick on bars any more than has recently occurred. Doesn't the state fund its roads and schools off Oregon video lottery proceeds? Wouldn't driving up beer prices cut into those precious sin dollars more than the equally misguided smoking ban already has?

Research has shown that the beer tax issue has come and gone over the years and that the current to-do won't amount to much. But considering the dire circumstances facing important public systems, one has to wonder if this could be the year the unthinkable happens.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.