Raising North Dakota's taxes on beer, wine and liquor would provide up to $2 million a year for programs that teach about the dangers of underage and binge drinking, says an advocate who wants a statewide vote on the issue.
Duane Peterson, of Gwinner in southeastern North Dakota, is leading an effort to raise the taxes and earmark part of the revenue for alcohol treatment and prevention grants.
Peterson said the North Dakota Legislature has done little to remedy the state's dubious status as a leader in underage and binge drinking. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as about five drinks in one sitting for men _ and four drinks for women _ within two hours.
"We feel that local coalitions, local organizations and schools are lacking the funding in order to properly educate the kids," Peterson said. "We feel that this would really help out."
The proposal would raise North Dakota's wholesale tax on a six-pack of beer from 9 cents to 14 cents. The tax of a liter of wine would increase by 2.3 cents; and the levy on a liter of whiskey, vodka and other liquors would rise by 9 cents. The tax on keg beer would rise from 8 cents to 17 cents a gallon.
The measure allocates a portion of the tax revenues to the Governor's Prevention Advisory Council on Drugs and Alcohol. The 12-member board includes first lady Mikey Hoeven; Wayne Sanstead, the superintendent of public instruction; Dr. Terry Dwelle, the state Health Department's top administrator; and James Prochniak, commander of the state Highway Patrol.
Peterson said the initiative would provide $2 million a year. The council's present budget is $180,000 for two years.
Rudie Martinson, director of the North Dakota Hospitality Association, said Thursday that the alcoholic beverage industry already helps to finance education programs to caution children about underage drinking.
"There are programs going on to educate kids, and we're supportive of that," Martinson said. "The idea of a new tax to do that ... I just don't think it's a good idea."
The national economic slowdown also could magnify the impact of a tax increase, Martinson said. "It's not something I'm excited to see," he said.
North Dakota estimates of alcohol use, compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, show the state with among the nation's highest percentages of underage and binge drinking.
In a report of 2006-07 survey results, the agency reported 40 percent of North Dakotans ages 12 to 20 said they had taken a drink in the past month. North Dakota also had the highest rate _ 29.5 percent _ of underage binge drinking, the May 2009 report said.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger must review the proposed ballot measure and write a short description of what it does before it can be approved for the ballot. He is required to finish the task before Christmas.
Once the initiative is approved for circulation, Peterson and other supporters of the measure have a year to gather at least 12,844 petition signatures from North Dakota voters. If they reach that goal, the initiative will be put on the ballot for a statewide vote.
Recent attempts to raise taxes on alcoholic beverages for alcohol education have failed. The North Dakota Legislature defeated a proposed increase in North Dakota's beer tax in 2005, and a subsequent ballot initiative failed to get the needed number of signatures.
Peterson said his 20-year-old son, Logan, once almost died from alcohol poisoning. Duane and Logan Peterson, along with Duane Peterson's wife, Trudy, are among the 40 sponsors of the measure.
"The goal behind it is to just get enough revenue out there for local coalitions and local organizations to educate the young people," Peterson said. "That's the main focus."