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Lobbyist Money Help  

Wine tax proposal meets some opposition

March 30, 1998
By: Joe Stange
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - If you drink wine, some Missouri lawmakers want to force you to help finance promotion of Missouri wine -- even if you drink vino from another state or country.

The proposal before the Missouri legislature would establish a special fee for all wine produced in Missouri. In addition, the proposal would boost the tax on all wine sold -- whether produced inside or outside the state - from six cents to eight cents per gallon.

The money would be use used to promote Missouri-produced wine.

Ironically, legislative leaders and the administration have made tax cuts -- not tax increases -- a major issue of the session in an effort to reduce refunds triggered by the Hancock revenue limit of the state constitution.

The state's budget director, Mark Ward, said the wine tax increase would count against the revenue limit.

The bill passed easily through the House 144-12, but only after the provision raising the tax on wine sales was removed by amendment. That would leave only the fee on Missouri wine production.

However, as soon as the bill came before the Senate Corrections Committee Monday, Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence, offered an amendment to tack back onto the bill the tax increase on wine sales.

Terry Schlemeier, lobbyist for the Wine Institute, a group of mostly Californian wine producers, came before the committee to testify against the two-cent increase.

"Basically what you have here is Joe Gallo funding the Missouri wine industry," he said. "You're taxing our product to give to somebody else."

Schlemeier noted that Missouri's current wine tax, already six cents, legally may "run in the face of GATT," the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, because it taxes wine from other countries.

Schlemeier made it clear that the Wine Institute would not support a tax on all wine that would go to support an industry which basically amounts to "five or six guys."

Tax money raised by the proposal would establish and fund the "Wine Marketing and Research Council" with five members elected by Missouri wine producers.

Rep. Vicki Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, testified for the bill. She said Missouri is a leader in wine and grape research.

"It would be a shame to lose that edge simply because of two cents a bottle."