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Higher alcohol tax would hurt weakened hospitality industry | READER COMMENTARY

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson stands behind plexiglass at the dais in the Senate Chamber at the Maryland State House. Among the proposals on the agenda of the 442nd session of Maryland General Assembly is a proposal to raise the state's alcohol tax to improve health care in low-income communities. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson stands behind plexiglass at the dais in the Senate Chamber at the Maryland State House. Among the proposals on the agenda of the 442nd session of Maryland General Assembly is a proposal to raise the state's alcohol tax to improve health care in low-income communities. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun) (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

Currently, Maryland lawmakers are considering a legislative proposal that would prove catastrophic for the hospitality industry which has already been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic (”Maryland health equity initiative legislation includes increase in alcohol tax to 10%,” Jan. 8). While I fully support efforts to tackle health disparities in our state, an increased alcohol tax is not the way to do it.

As a beverage wholesaler, I work with retail stores, restaurants, bars and live event venues. These businesses are struggling to get by with many in Maryland closing permanently. After nearly a year of constantly changing restrictions, there is no saying when or how they’ll recover. But what we do know is that alcohol sales will be an essential component. We cannot create any new roadblocks as these local establishments look to return to their pre-pandemic sales levels.

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To be clear, the impact of such a tax goes even further than the businesses themselves. These taxes are regressive and hurt individuals who can least afford it. We shouldn’t put additional burdens on Marylanders who are already suffering economically.

A higher alcohol tax would also lead to job losses up and down the supply and distribution chain including those at our favorite bars and restaurants. In Maryland, 2020 saw over 12,000 beer economy jobs lost to COVID-19 impacts. We can’t consider higher taxes in a vacuum.

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As businesses, workers and the consumers they serve look to recover, we must pursue common sense, broad-based solutions that don’t target a single industry or place a greater burden on working class Marylanders. We absolutely need to address health inequities in Maryland, but funding for such a worthwhile cause must not discourage job growth nor hurt small businesses, especially the hospitality sector which is so important to our state.

Neal Katcef, Annapolis

The writer is president and owner of Katcef Brothers, a local beer wholesaler.

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