The state of Karnataka, India, had 300 deaths last year from bootleg liquor. Sold in plastic bags and made by local entrepreneurs, it is popular because legal booze costs more than many drinkers can, or are willing, to pay. According to booze purveyors and consumers here in Maine, the new tax laid on various types of Dutch Courage by the Legislature is pointing the Pine Tree State toward a similarly grim circumstance.

In an attempt to patch a hole in an overoptimistic budget made last year by this same group of thinkers, the Maine Legislature recently imposed an increased tax on wine, beer and spirits. This action has stirred up flatulence among makers and sellers – as well as hullabaloos from users. The hard-pressed habitants of the Old Port are seething in frustration. According to spokesmen for the brew and booze industry, revenge is on the mind of topers near and far.

Those people’s representatives in Augusta who passed this tax – most of whom are anxious for another ride on the horse of public payroll – should beware. Didn’t Hillary spend millions chasing the “shot and suds” vote all over Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky? And wasn’t it successful?

Fortunately, the Maine constitution contains a “People’s Veto” provision, which permits the common folks to overturn the Legislature. If enough voters sign a petition soon enough (55,000 within the next few weeks), the question is eventually placed on a ballot for a statewide yes or no. Groups such as Believers in Better Booze (BBB), Merchants Much Miffed (MMM) and Alkys Are Angry (AAA) have coalesced to make the petitions widely available in watering holes and convenience stores statewide. They also sponsored “petition tables” at polling places during the June primary turnout this week.

It seems likely, therefore, that the 55,000 signatures will be obtained.

At this early stage, the opinion of the voting public is not clear – and the sound and fury of the aggrieved is unlikely to add much in the way of wisdom. Consequently, Lucius Flatley, an avowed drinker in Gorham, called together a group to consider this people’s veto – a celebration of democracy at its most basic level.

The group first reviewed the tax debate that took place in the hallowed halls of Augusta. One stentorian purveyor of legislative nonsense had claimed, “We should tax things that are bad for us!” That balderdash was dealt with quickly – “Any person who claims that a cold beer with a lobster dinner is ‘bad for us’ needs a head examination!” – followed almost as quickly by noting that the term “luxury” would seem unfitting about beer, the poor man’s drink. Beer, among many, is considered a necessity of life.

A member of Stock Brokers and Bankers (SBB) supported another legislative proponent’s argument, that this tax would have little effect on consumption, who announced, “Without the two-martini lunch, hedge fund managers would collapse.”

The group then discussed the “Pied Piper” technique employed by the Legislature – in this case, the “Piper” played the tune of dedicating the manna to Dirigo, a state-assisted medical stratagem that benefits low-income folks. All well and good, but that gimmick was discounted by experience – and common sense. The experience was the state lottery, which was supposed to enrich Maine students a couple of generations ago, and the common sense was offered by one dairyman, who informed the group that all teats are connected to the same bag.

The one or two serious tipplers in the group were still aggrieved that a pint of Old Dobbin would cost an extra dime in downtown Westbrook and that a typical dinner for two in the refined air of Kennebunkport will jump from 85 bucks to 88. One interesting theory proposed by a faith healer held that medical costs would rise without the calming effect of ethyl alcohol.

Nevertheless, in the end, Flatley was unable to summarize a group decision. The gathering remained split.

Whether the citizenry is for or against the idea, whether the 55,000 John Henrys will be obtained or not, one thing that has to be said for the new tax: It is getting many Maineiacs out of foggy bars and saloons and into the light of a beautiful Maine summer.

Rodney Quinn, who lives in Gorham, is a former Maine secretary of state. He can be reached at [email protected]

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