Gov. Pete Ricketts plans to hoist a drink in protest of higher beer taxes

Gov. Pete Ricketts plans to hoist a drink in protest of higher beer taxes
Craft brewers are posting signs and enlisting the governor in their opposition to higher taxes on beer. This poster was hung in a tavern in downtown Lincoln. PAUL HAMMEL/THE WORLD-HERALD

LINCOLN — Craft brewers are planning a protest against higher beer taxes, and the state’s chief executive says he’ll drink to that.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Wednesday that he will join the craft brewers in a March 1 “raise glasses, not taxes” event to protest proposals pending in the Nebraska Legislature that would about triple state excise taxes on brew.

Ricketts, a conservative Republican, said he opposes any tax increases, including the increases in beer, wine and liquor taxes proposed in two bills designed to help lower property taxes.

The bills, if enacted, would give Nebraska the highest state excise tax on beer in the nation, raising it from 31 cents a gallon to $1.38 a gallon.

The Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild will hold simultaneous events March 1 at 4 p.m. at craft breweries in Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island to raise a glass of beer in opposition to the bills.

Ricketts said he’s joining the brewers.

“We are urging the Legislature to oppose tax increases on craft brewers and other Nebraska goods and services,” he said in a press release. “In urban and rural areas across our state, these tax hikes will kill job opportunities for Nebraska families and inhibit continued growth in tourism and economic development.”

Sponsors of the two bills have said that to lower property taxes, there needs to be a shift onto other taxes.

On Wednesday, the sponsor of one of the bills, State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, said he’s amending his measure, Legislative Bill 314, in hopes of gaining support from craft brewers. Instead of an excise tax hike — which would have been collected by brewers and could have created cash flow problems — Briese said he’s now proposing a 3 percent “surcharge” on purchases of beer, wine and liquor that would be collected when products are sold.

“It is a more transparent way for consumers to see where dollars are being collected, while keeping our local small businesses able to offer competitive prices on the shelves,” the senator said.

Public hearings on the two bills to increase beer taxes are scheduled for Thursday afternoon at the State Capitol.