It's that time of year again. There's another round of depressing news regarding the state's economic recovery and the same old call that the state's beer and wine tax is too low.

At a time when the unemployment rate in Oregon is the highest in the country, the last thing anyone should be talking about is increasing taxes Ñ especially targeted taxes such as the beer and wine tax proposal, House Bill 3258, which we believe will take money out of the pockets of hardworking men and women in Oregon when they can least afford it. On top of that, it will penalize an Oregon-based industry that is struggling to survive and provide much-needed jobs in our depressed economy.

What many fail to recognize is that Oregon's current beer and wine tax reflects the importance of the industry to the state's economy. The beer industry alone involves hop growers, brewers, beer distributors, truck drivers, retailers, bartenders and the paper industry, which provides the raw materials for labels and packaging.

The value-added impact of the beer industry in Oregon is more than $1.6 billion, according to a recent study by the Beer Institute. Oregon's beer and wine tax is on a par with the tax rates in Colorado, Missouri and Wisconsin Ñ states that all benefit from a healthy and prosperous brewing industry.

In addition, anti-alcohol groups fail to recognize that beer is one of the most heavily taxed products you will find in any grocery store, restaurant or bar. On average, taxes represent 44 percent of the cost of a beer to the consumer.

In 1991, the federal government doubled the beer excise tax, from $9 per barrel to $18. It's estimated that the increase eliminated more than 60,000 jobs across the country. The increases currently proposed in Salem, some as high as 1,300 percent, would undoubtedly have a major impact on the brewing industry in Oregon.

We ask the Legislature and fellow Oregonians not to be misled by the anti-alcohol crusaders who are only interested in securing more funding for their pet projects. An increase in the beer and wine tax would do more harm than good to the Oregon economy.

Now more than ever, we need to support and encourage the growth of Oregon businesses, not place more taxes on them.

K.C. Han is president of the Korean-American Grocers Association of Oregon; Michael McCallum is president of the Oregon Restaurant Association; John Annen is president of the Oregon Hop Growers Association.

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