Several local brewers spoke at the rally, along with a few lawmakers, about the importance of the industry to the state.
“I know your margins are small – no one’s going to get rich making beer,” said Joe Korbuszewski, a home brewer and bartender in Tacoma who helped organize the protest. “But you know what? You can support your kids and pay your mortgage doing it. And I don’t want them to take that away.”
A temporary beer tax, which is set to expire this June, was levied on breweries in 2010. Under the current law, smaller brewers are exempt. But legislation proposed by both Gov. Jay Inslee and House Democrats would remove that exemption for smaller brewers, and extend those taxes permanently.
The proposals from Inslee and the House differ – Inslee’s plan would increase taxes to $.50 per gallon for all breweries, while the House’s proposal would increase tax on large brewers by $.25 and small brewers by $.15 – but either way means more taxes on small brewers.
Republican Senators Doug Ericksen and Michael Baumgartner showed their support for the brewers by carrying beer steins.
“You folks have an industry that is growing, that is employing people. It’s serving a need, and we have to make sure that the actions taken inside these chambers do not put you out of work,” said Ericksen (R – Ferndale) told the crowd.
Supporters of the tax say it would bring in millions of dollars for K-12 education — as much as $128 million under Inslee’s plan and $59 million under the House’s proposal. But opponents say it will take away jobs, and could ruin an industry for which Washington has become known.
“With over 200 breweries, Washington is second only to California in number of breweries,” said Dick Cantwell of Elysian Brewing in Seattle. “That number will decline substantially if taxes are increased to the levels being discussed.”
The Senate’s budget does not include the tax extension. Budget writers from the House and Senate are working to negotiate a final budget.
“Together we’re not going to let this beer tax happen, because it’s about jobs, it’s about helping this economy,” said Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R – Spokane).