Booze, it seems, causes some people to do drunken things, get in trouble (i.e., do harm, at times), go off to the E.R., occasionally in an ambulance. So why not tax the booze to pay for the E.R. and ambulances? This is being proposed by San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos in one of a bunch of efforts to fill the gaping budget hole that this city, like virtually every city in the nation, is facing.
It is called a “cause for harm” fee. A fee, explains San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius, differs from a tax because it can only be spent for the specified purpose for which it was collected. We don’t like the word Tax these days.
No fair! say the bar and restaurant owners; five cents more per martini will kill the business! I doubt that. Having put in my time as a martini (among other things) drinker, I can absolutely certify that if you want a$6 cocktail you’re not going to pass it up at $6.05.
“Cause for harm” fees, in fact, seem like a pretty good idea:
- Oil company digging fees (say, five cents a quart) for spills, etc.
- Leaf-blower fees to mitigate noise, air and clogging-the-storm-drain pollution
- A dead cell phone fee to ship dead cell phones to another planet if there’s one that wouldn’t really mind
- Pigeon fees… well, just because
You can create your own list. Fees of this “cause for harm” type are collected in other states, though more often used to pay for things like treatment and education rather than transportation to the ER. In any event, they clearly make sense. And somehow the cause/effect principle seems like one that should pick up wider support.
Maybe Mr. Karzai could impose a few fees of his own, and use them to send all those troops back home.