Reader View: Stop subsidizing excessive drinking

In an article earlier this year (“Advocates fear looming cuts to N.M. behavioral health services,” Jan. 31),The New Mexicanreported: “Both the governor and the Legislature have asked for a reduction in spending on the Human Services Department’s Behavioral Health Services Division, which has been critical in funding substance-abuse prevention programs across the state.”

This is a backward policy. Right now our lawmakers are choosing to subsidize excessive drinking and the harm it causes. Whether or not a person drinks, every New Mexican pays $406 a year in taxes to cover the costs of ambulances, indigent and emergency room care, extra police work, court cases and detention for excessive drinkers and the people they injure through car crashes and assaults. Increasing the alcohol excise tax by 25 cents per drink lets excessive drinking pay for excessive drinking harms.

Our state would see an annual revenue boost of $154 million by raising alcohol excise taxes 25 cents per drink. Imagine if we used that money to pay for services being slashed. Every dollar spent on prevention now saves $9 down the road. Or better yet, for the required 5 percent match for the newly insured by Medicaid?

Over the past two years, the federal government paid for expanding Medicaid to more than 200,000 previously uninsured New Mexicans. Starting in 2017, we’re required to pay a 5 percent match to keep this health care bonanza serving our state. Instead of looking for ways to slash funds, lawmakers should be rejoicing that the federal government will give a 95 percent Medicaid expansion match —pumping more than $1.6 billion back into New Mexico’s stagnant economy — if only we show the political will to make the initial payment, which raising alcohol taxes can provide.

Alcohol excise taxes haven’t been raised since 1993. That’s more than 20 years in a row alcohol that companies have been give what amounts to a tax break due to inflation. Can you say your taxes haven’t been raised since 1993? Alcohol companies sure can.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, only 18 percent of New Mexicans drink excessively, yet excessive drinking costs the state economy $2.2 billion a year, due to lost workdays, workplace accidents and increased insurance costs. Raising the alcohol excise tax 25 cents per drink in New Mexico would boost the state economy by $128 million a year by eliminating about 10 percent of these costs. On top of this, it would create 2,700 new jobs because of the increased tax revenues, over and above accounting for jobs lost in the liquor industry.

So what’s it going to be? Continue to subsidize excessive drinking and the harms it causes, or let the 18 percent of excessive drinking New Mexicans pay for the harms their behavior creates by raising the alcohol excise tax 25 cents a drink? Force cash-strapped New Mexicans to each pay more than $400 a year in unnecessary taxes and business owners to lose $2.2 billion in revenues, or shift the cost to those who are creating the problem?

See the state’s economy lose another $1.6 billion a year in federal health care funding — forcing counties to use local taxes to pick up that slack and pay for indigent care for the more than 200,000 newly insured Medicaid enrollees — or use some of the revenues generated from an alcohol tax increase to pay a 5 percent match to keep people healthy? There’s plenty of money for behavior health care available, but our lawmakers first need to stop subsidizing the health harms caused by excessive drinking.

Peter DeBenedittis, Ph.D., is director of Alcohol Taxes Save Lives and Money (www.alcoholtaxessavelives.org).

Originaly Posted in Santafe New Mexican April 9th 2016 see the original article.

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