Some New Mexico lawmakers debate higher tax rate for alcohol

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico has the worst rate in the nation for alcohol-related deaths at nearly 2,000 people per year and some lawmakers are debating whether the state tax on booze should be higher.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee has chosen an alcohol tax increase as one of its top priorities for next year.

But some lawmakers don’t know how much to increase the alcohol tax, whether to change how the taxes are levied and what to do with the revenues raised.

New Mexico taxes alcohol wholesalers a fixed amount per volume of beverage they sell to retailers, who raise prices on consumers to cover the upcharge.

Experts say higher taxes reduce some of alcohol’s harmful impacts by making it more expensive to drink excessively.

Alcohol taxes also raise revenue that can fund prevention and treatment services.

But the New Mexican reports that the state’s rates don’t adjust as inflation pushes up alcohol’s prices and legislators rarely tinker with them.

The current rates — 7 cents per drink for wine and spirits and 4 cents a drink for beer — are at historic lows, according to the newspaper.

The last time advocates in New Mexico attempted to raise alcohol taxes, they campaigned in 2017 for an across-the-board, quarter-a-drink increase and the bill flopped.

“Everyone needs to understand the landscape before we have a serious conversation about how it should be changed,” Rep. Christine Chandler, who chairs the state legislature’s Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee, told the New Mexican.