The state of California is considering an alcohol tax known as “five for life” that would tax every alcoholic drink sold by 5 cents over the wholesale price and use the money to reimburse emergency rooms and trauma centers for alcohol-related incidents.
One problem is that the tax singles out a specific group of people — those who make the legal choice to drink alcohol — to aid the states’ insufficiently funded medical facilities. Through taxation, legislators send the message that alcohol drinkers are a unique segment of the population that can be financially punished for their alleged indiscretion. Politicians know they can get away with the tax and it might even bolster their political image because alcoholism has attached a stigma to alcohol use in general. And even though the tax is small, the principle of taxing an activity partly because it is perceived as wrong gives legislators a precedent they may eventually abuse.
Furthermore, alcohol abuse is already punished by law. Those who cause harm to others while under the influence face strict punishment. A tax on alcohol would be a second “punishment” for a legal activity many enjoy safely.
Immersed in the discussion surrounding the alcohol tax is the greater problem: the insufficient funding for vital medical facilities in California. Emergency rooms and trauma centers are among the most important state-funded institutions in California. Good health sits in lofty company with food and shelter as basic human necessities. Since the 1990s, hospital emergency rooms have been losing money by the hundreds of millions each year. It is deplorable that the most populous state in the world’s most prosperous nation cannot provide adequate, convenient medical facilities for its citizens.
Hospitals and other emergency care sites should not be scrimping for an operational budget; the state needs to make sure the availability of emergency care is never a question. Raising taxes across the board to do so is the best way to ensure this, rather than targeting specific habits.
University Wire — U. California-Los Angeles