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OUR VIEW: Drunken driving more complex than a drink tax can fix

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

By The Daily Republic Editorial Board

The recent tragedy in Lake Andes has begun anew the debate about additional taxing for alcoholic beverages in South Dakota.

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Earlier this summer, Maegan Spindler, of New York, and Robert Klumb, of Pierre, were killed while on location working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The two were preparing their gear in a hotel parking lot in Lake Andes when a car sped through a stop sign and careened into parked cars at the hotel. Ronald Fischer Jr., of Lake Andes, is accused of driving drunk and causing those unnecessary deaths.

Now, South Dakota media reports indicate that Spindler’s parents are calling for a statewide tax on liquor to provide more money for catching drunken drivers.

Gregg Spindler, Meagan’s father, told KELO television that he suggests a “dedicated revenue stream for local, tribal and state law enforcement to more rigorously enforce the laws.”

Although the news segment didn’t include specific figures, proposals like this have surfaced in the past, and some have called for an additional tax of a dime per drink.

That means a $3 bottle of beer could potentially carry a tax of 31 cents. We get that figure by calculating the regular state sales tax of 4 percent, plus the regular city sales tax of 2 percent, plus the 1 percent “bed, board and booze” tax added by the city, plus the proposed extra dime per drink. And that’s not the whole story. Before the consumer ever sips that beer, the local retailer has paid a malt-beverage license fee, the wholesaler has paid a volume-based tax, and the manufacturer has paid an alcoholic beverage brand registration fee, just to name a few of this state’s complex alcohol fees and taxes.

Although we have not necessarily backed new drink tax proposals in the past, we haven’t said they’re bad for South Dakota, either. In 2009, we noted that a proposed dime-a-drink tax had surfaced, and we opined that if the process raised money to help counties with various costs -- whether it’s from prosecution of alcohol-related cases to fixing roads -- it may not be a bad idea.

Today, however, we don’t like the idea. A booze tax specifically targets one singular portion of the population, and it also assumes that everyone who drinks is responsible in some part of the crimes of a few.

Also, our tax dollars already are being put to use in catching drunken drivers, through existing publicly funded police forces. We do not believe that pumping more money toward actually catching DUI offenders will end drunken driving.

Drunken driving is a social problem that must be solved with a combination of reaction (actually catching drivers in the act), rehabilitation (such as the state’s successful 24/7 program) and proactivity (education programs).

We agree that there are too many drunken drivers on the roads, but we don’t agree that raising the price of alcohol for everyone who enjoys a drink will actually fix the problem on its own.

Meanwhile, we’d give anything to bring back even one victim of a drunken driver, and we fully respect the Spindlers’ interest in this terrible trend.

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