booze.jpgSan Francisco is a drinking town with a budget problem, and Supervisor John Avalos thinks there’s a vast untapped source of revenue in barrooms and bodegas.

SF could glean as much as $17 million a year in revenue, in fact, if an Avalos proposal to impose a fee on alcohol is approved.

Past ideas to raise cash through the city’s drinkers including a five-cent surchage per alcoholic beverage. That’s now out the window: instead, retailers, wholesalers and breweries/distilleries will pay a fee of $.076 cents per ounce of booze slung within city limits. If approved, wholesalers would begin paying the fee on January 31, 2011.

The idea, Avalos said, is cost recovery: alcohol costs the city money in a variety of ways, from substance abuse treatment to vandalism to paying someone to wash the East Bay’s urine off of Broadway every weekend. Alcohol was the primary cause of death in roughly eight percent of natural deaths in San Francisco in 2006, and figured in homicides, suicides and — duh — drunken driving incidents. Tapping alcohol for cold, hard cash thus isn’t greed; it’s fair.

It’s not immediately clear how much support the proposal has in City Hall. The imposition of fees instead of outright taxes is a tactic employed by Mayor Gavin Newsom; Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker was coolly receptive.

“It’s an interesting proposition, but it’s one that affects tens of thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of people,” Winnicker said. “And it doesn’t let the Board off the hook for the difficult budget decisions to be made over the coming weeks.”

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