Alcohol taxes across country are “very, very low”

Lawmakers shouldn’t read too much into the fact that New Mexico has some of the highest alcohol taxes in the country, a national expert told them today. Because “alcohol taxes across the country are very, very low.”And Richard Auxier, Senior Policy Associate, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, gave lawmakers at the Legislature’s Revenue Stabilization & Tax Policy Committee hearing a clear answer to questions about whether raising taxes helps improve public health. Yes, he said, research shows that raising taxes reduces consumption and improves health. In the state that leads the country in alcohol deaths, that’s important. But when you get into the weeds of tax policy, everything becomes complicated. Lawmakers should start with understanding their ultimate goal, Auxier said. Is it to eliminate or drastically reduce consumption of alcohol? If so, it might make sense to increase taxes significantly. Or is it to improve public health while not making drinking alcohol so expensive that it becomes out of reach?

Lawmakers say alcohol on 2023 session agenda

Powerful state lawmakers are signaling their desire to address New Mexico’s worst-in-the-nation rate of alcohol-related deaths in the upcoming session, including by changing how alcohol is taxed. Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, chair of the influential Senate Finance Committee, said he supports raising statewide alcohol taxes, among the most effective measures for curbing excessive drinking. Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, agreed the state’s rates “are probably not at the level they need to be,” and raising them “should be part of the solution” to the state’s alcohol crisis. Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, chair of the House committee that crafts the state budget, acknowledged “we do not have the balance right” between businesses that profit from selling alcohol and people harmed by consuming it and said in the coming session she expected “legislation to come through that is going to cost money.”

In August, lawmakers on health, criminal justice, and economic committees voiced concern about New Mexico’s alcohol problems. Many attributed the flurry of interest to a New Mexico In Depth investigative series, which showed the state’s alcohol-related death rate has risen continuously for decades and is far above any other state’s. “I really didn’t realize how bad we were on alcohol deaths until I read all of those articles,” said Stewart.

Help us learn: Share your story with alcohol

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO – JUNE 26, 2022: The alcohol department at a grocery store Albuquerque, NM on June 26, 2022. CREDIT: Adria Malcolm for New Mexico In Depth

Many New Mexican families struggle with alcohol but the problem has often been neglected. That’s partly because of stigma towards addiction: it doesn’t always feel easy to share stories about it. New Mexico In Depth published Blind Drunk last week, a series about why New Mexico leads the country in deaths related to alcohol, and what can be done about it. The reporting examines myths, misconceptions, and outright fallacies in thinking about alcohol dependency.

Blind Drunk

Alcohol is killing New Mexicans at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country — yet the state has largely neglected the growing crisis.

In this seven-part series, New Mexico In Depth investigates the state’s blind spots and shines a light on solutions.