- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2017

A Democrat-sponsored bill in Oregon that would tax coffee has jolted caffeine lovers in the famously java-friendly Pacific Northwest.

The legislation would impose an excise tax of 5 cents per pound on wholesale transactions of coffee beans and ground coffee in order to fund education programs, but so far criticism of the bill has been scalding.

“There are a lot of things Oregonians like with their coffee — a tax is not one of them,” House Republican Leader Mike McLane in a statement. “This proposal is regressive, it is poor public policy, and it deserves to be shelved just as quickly as it was introduced.”

The response on social media was similarly heated: A Portland Tribune reporter described House Bill 2875 as “political suicide,” while Oregon environmental attorney Nicholas Caleb intoned, “These are dark, dark times.”

“Taxing caffeinated beverages is a dicey proposition, as the British learned in 1773,” quipped the Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss, who estimated the bill would bring in about $2 million annually.

Still, desperate times may call for desperate measures in Oregon, where Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and the state legislature are casting about for ways to address an estimated $1.8 billion budget shortfall over the next two-year cycle.

“I can’t speak to the political situation in Oregon, but what I can say is Oregon has a $1.8 billion deficit, and so we are probably going to see a number of these revenue proposals,” said Tax Foundation economist Nicole Kaeding.

Ms. Kaeding said an excise tax on coffee would be unprecedented as Oregon doesn’t have any general sales tax. In addition, even states that have sales taxes often exempt grocery items such as coffee or tax them at a lower rate than other goods.

Ms. Brown’s $20.8 billion budget proposal unveiled in December combines budget cuts with tax increases on items such as tobacco and liquor.

“First beer, then wine and spirits. Now coffee! This is un-Oregonian,” said Republican State Rep. Knute Buehler on Twitter.

The Oregon bill, introduced Wednesday by the House Committee on Revenue, would require a three-fifths vote for passage in the state House and Senate, both of which are controlled by Democrats.

The legislation would establish and fund the Alternative Education Sustainability Fund, as well as provide revenue for the Oregon National Guard Youth Challenge Program.

Several Oregonians said on social media that they would be willing to swallow a coffee tax in the name of deficit reduction, but they were vastly outnumbered by those who said the idea left a bitter taste in their mouths.

“House Democrats are a national laughingstock for brewing a new $2 million caffeine tax,” said Senate Republican spokesman Jonathan Lockwood in a statement. “The thing is, here in Oregon, no one is that surprised the Democrats came up with this idea. The only thing more shocking is that they think it will pass.”

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