Following a boisterous rally on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, members of the city’s Budget and Finance Committee heard more than three hours of arguments both for and against a proposed ordinance that would impose a fee on alcohol distribution in the city.
The “Charge for Harm” ordinance, introduced by Supervisor John Avalos in June, seeks to recover an estimated $18.1 million in alcohol-related costs to the city, according to the city controller’s office.
The original proposal would amount to a 4-cent-per-serving increase in the price of beer, a 6-cent increase per glass of wine, and a 5-cent-per-serving increase for hard liquor. Today, supervisors suggested an amendment that would reduce these proposed fees by 25 percent.
The controller’s office predicted the fee would fall directly on wholesale alcohol distributors in the city, and ultimately retailers would likely pass the fee on to consumers. This could allegedly result in reduced spending at bars and restaurants.
But supporters at today’s rally and meeting–many donning red baseball caps with “Charge for Harm” written across the front–argued that taxpayers end up paying the cost for alcohol abuse, and that the fee is meant to shift this burden to big businesses.
The $17 million expected to be generated by the fee would go to alcohol treatment programs and fire department emergency transport.
Dissenters voiced concerns that rather than hitting the targeted big businesses, the fee would hit small businesses unable to absorb the added costs. Many said they worried about resulting job losses in the private industry sector and a potential hit for the city’s tourism industry.
Ted Egan, a representative for the controller’s office, concurred with a few of these points in today’s meeting.
“Certainly the larger, more established businesses will be able to absorb this [fee] more,” Egan said.
But the controller’s report on the ordinance suggests the net economic impact would be neutral as the generated revenue could potentially save as many jobs as it might terminate.
However, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd pointed out in today’s meeting that the ordinance is essentially an exchange of a loss of private sector jobs with the potential retention of public sector jobs.
In addition, he pointed to a potential $60,000 resulting loss in sales tax revenue to the city.
Still, Charge for Harm supporters say San Francisco needs the fee because of how much money the city spends on medical care for people with alcohol-related illnesses.
The committee did not vote on the issue today but will discuss it again in a meeting on Monday scheduled for 11 a.m. The legislation is currently scheduled to go to the full board on Sept. 7.
Avalos said the timeline for the legislation was sped up because of Proposition 26 on the November ballot, which could potentially make it more difficult for local municipalities to impose mitigation fees on business activities that cause public or environmental harm.